Mental toughness, time management helps Gehrls succeed as dual athlete


Courtesy / GVSU Athletics

Zack Goodrow, Sports Editor

It’s no doubt that student athletes have a unique experience when it comes to navigating their college career. Training, competing in games, and taking classes are all factors for every athlete at Grand Valley State University. At times, it’s an overwhelming task. Student athletes have to deal with a busy schedule and have to maintain their physical and mental health. Only a few special types of GVSU students can do this while playing more than one sport. 

Junior Samatha Gehrls is a starting guard for the GVSU women’s basketball team. This year, she averaged 6.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and amassed 23 steals before the season ended. She started all 20 games for the Lakers and was second in minutes per game on the team with 30.3 a night. 

As soon as the team’s season ended on March 13, she had the weekend off and then went straight to the GVSU softball team. So far this year, Gehrls has pitched 5.0 innings and has given up only one earned run. Last year, Gehrls was unable to appear in a game for her team due to the transition from basketball and because of COVID-19. When she was a freshman however, she dominated her competition. In 16 games, she posted a 10-2 record with 60 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA. 

Coming from Caledonia High School, Gehrls didn’t have an obvious path for playing both the sports she excelled at in high school. Her primary sport was basketball, and she was recruited heavily by the GVSU basketball team. Gehrls was also interested in continuing her softball career, and reached out to the softball team.

One of the biggest factors involved with Gehrls contacting the softball team was her connection with pitching coach Jen Rivera. Rivera coached Gerhls’ sister  and she has known her from a very young age. That connection helped Gerhls become one of the few dual athletes at GVSU. 

“It was never super apparent to me, it just kind of lined up that way for playing two sports,” Gehrls said. “I was recruited for basketball from Grand Valley and I also got some interest from GV for softball. It worked out fantastically that I was able to do both. Freshman year I just thought, ‘we’ll give this a go around and see how it goes’. I wasn’t sure if it was possible but I went for it.”

Her first year at GVSU was a huge transition. She was very overwhelmed at points during the year. Like most athletes, having a structured schedule and routine has helped Gehrls to be able to play two sports. She prioritises what she needs to get done and has realized that waiting until the last minute for assignments is not the way to go. She has also learned to value the very little time to herself she gets. 

“There is a bit of craziness involved with it,” Gehrls said. “I’m not going to lie, it has been one of the most challenging opportunities in my life. I’m extremely thankful however to have this opportunity. It’s hard and there’s days that are harder than others. At the end of the day though, I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing relationships and memories that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

In the fall, Gehrls splits her time training for both sports. If there’s ever any scheduling conflict however, she goes to basketball. As a dual athlete, Gehrls rarely has any down time. 

Gehrls has no specific duration with time off, but she finds ways to mentally and physically relax. During the school year she is obviously extremely busy. September to March is all basketball for her. After the GLIAC tournament or the NCAA tournament, she heads straight to the softball field to compete. Gehrls acknowledges that it’s very difficult at times to compete in both sports, but she understands the value in these experiences. 

“You only get four years of your life where you get to compete at the collegiate level,” Gehrls said. “Those are four very special years.” 

To Gehrls advantage, both sports are different in their mentality and physicality. Physically, Gehrls uses different muscle groups in each sport and doesn’t have to worry much about fatigue. On the mental side, she’s also around different people and an atmosphere that keeps things fresh. 

“Basketball is so complex with the running and jumping and all the physical aspects involved with it,” Gehrls said. “I have so much respect for every college student who plays the game. On the flip side, softball has a great mental complexity. That mental toughness transfers between both sports. Whether it’s striking out a batter or hitting two important free throws, mental toughness is key in both sports.” 

This year, the transition for Gehrls was very hard. Throughout the semester, Gehrls spends two days a week pitching for an hour. Having softball as a second sport is beneficial for Gehrls. Pitching is fined tuned and it takes consistency in accuracy and form. She’s able to train for softball while going through the physical trials of a basketball season. 

“It’s something I’ve learned throughout college, that mental toughness is really the key,” Gehrls said. “I’ve learned it from some amazing teammates and from coaches from both sports. Being a pitcher you have to zone in and that transfers into basketball as well.” 

Throughout her college career, Gehrls has flipped back and forth between which sport she enjoys more. While she spends most of her training and time involved with the basketball team, Gehrls always enjoys the mental trails a softball season takes. Both sports have also surrounded her with amazing teammates and have given her great experiences. Playing college sports is tough. Playing two sports is even tougher, but Gehrls has risen to the challenge and will get the most out of her four years at GVSU.