DELAND — Cheyenne Nunez had March 11 marked on her calendar. She knew that would be the one and only time her softball team – the University of South Carolina Upstate Spartans – would be in Florida this season.
What Nunez didn’t know is that the doubleheader at Stetson University in DeLand – about 40 miles northeast of Orlando – would also be the final games of the season.
Twenty-four games into their season and with about 50 games remaining, the Spartans were forced to call it a season due to the global coronavirus outbreak.
The shutdown was a harsh way for Nunez to end her first season with Upstate. As a junior college transfer, she only has two years of eligibility. Reports indicate the NCAA could grant another year of eligibility to spring athletes impacted by the virus shutdown.
The timing was tough to handle, too, because after spending a lot of games as a reserve, Nunez made the most of a rare starting opportunity in what turned out to be the team’s final game.
With her parents Daniel and Peggy and her younger sisters and other relatives in the stands, Nunez started game two of the doubleheader in left field, batted in the No. 8 spot, drilled a deep shot to the base of the centerfield fence that was caught, and played the entire game as Upstate rallied from a 5-1 deficit for a 9-6 win.
She walked and scored a run in three trips, and shined defensively in the outfield by throwing out a runner at home.
Ever since she was a multisport athlete at Okeechobee High School, Nunez’s goal was to play NCAA Division I. She attained that goal after battling her way through the junior college ranks for two years.
“It’s been an adjustment. I knew [Division I] was going to be tougher and it would be more competitive,” Nunez said in an interview on the field before the start of the doubleheader at Stetson and before the season was stopped.
It hasn’t taken long for Nunez to make a positive impact on the team.
“Phenomenal kid. Great work ethic. Just an awesome person,” said Upstate coach Chris Hawkins. “She’s always the motivator. Always picking someone up when they need it.”
Nunez said she loves the team, the school and her new town, but adapting to playing in cooler temperatures compared to Florida has been a challenge.
“I think the biggest transition is going from hot to cold. We’ve been playing in like 20-degree weather and it’s a big transition for me because I’m used to 90-degree weather and not having to wear leggings and extra socks,” she said.
Pitching is also different than what she usually saw in junior college.
“I faced a couple good [junior college] pitchers last year, but this year some people will have a lot of spin, but they’ll be slower; or some people will have a lot of speed, but not as much spin,” she said.
Another adjustment that Nunez has faced is that she hasn’t been a regular starter. She’s fresh from a two-year career at State College of Florida in Bradenton where she played every day in the heart of the batting order and set school records for stolen bases.
“I’m used to competing, but I’m not used to not starting all the time,” she said.
She added that everyone on the team is a great player and that earning a starting role is a battle.
“This team is so hard working,” she said.
Upstate ended its season with a 17-7 record. The Spartans had yet to start their Big South Conference slate.
Nunez finished with a .250 batting average that included three hits in 12 at-bats and three runs scored, two walks and one hit-by-pitch. Her first hit for the Spartans was a single against LaSalle.
She went 2-for-3 against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Off the field, Nunez has been busy.
After switching majors earlier in her college life, she’s settled on sociology. She also became engaged and has a December 2021 wedding date with her fiancé Eddy Gonzalez. After Nunez graduates from Upstate, they plan to move to Bradenton.
Nunez would like to coach softball on the college level and continue to coach her younger sisters and other Tribal youngsters in NAYO.
She encourages younger Tribal players to follow their dreams and follow in her footsteps by experiencing education and life beyond the borders of the reservations.
“That’s why I left. I wanted to experience all of this,” she said.
After she graduates, Nunez wants to work for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
“I don’t know what I want to do in the hotel industry yet, but I want to work for the Tribe. I just love being around Native Americans, I love being around the culture,” she said.
Similar to when she was starring in volleyball, basketball and softball at Okeechobee High, Nunez continues to adhere to the philosophy of working hard and getting better in whatever she does.
“At the end of the day, I know if I fail then I have to be better. I can’t make the same mistake twice,” she said.