On April 23, 2022, everything changed for Karli Spaid.
The visiting University of California Golden Bears had proven a tough test for a RedHawks softball squad in the midst of dominating the Mid-American Conference (MAC). After a close win against Cal the previous night, the Miami University RedHawks found themselves struggling, trailing 5-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning.
In a blink, the RedHawk’s fortunes changed. Back to back homers and another two-run blast evened things up, and a walk put a runner in scoring position. Then, Karli Spaid stepped out of the on deck circle.
“I've never thought of myself as a clutch player because I get very stressed out and very jittery,” Spaid said. "But that one, I could just feel how calm I was.”
Bottom of the seventh, two outs, tie game. Spaid entered the batter’s box, took a deep breath, and readied her bat.
She knew as soon as she made contact. Spaid threw down her bat in celebration, her teammates gathering around home plate to watch the ball she had just crushed sail over the fence at Miami Softball Stadium. Victory, RedHawks.
Spaid didn’t know it at the time, but she had just unlocked a new, more confident part of herself. She finished that season a member of the All-MAC first team and as a third team All-American, the first in Miami softball history.
A junior sports management major from Irving Park, one of many neighborhoods in Chicago, Spaid began her softball journey at the age of five the way most do: with tee-ball. Growing up, her family’s involvement highlighted her early softball days.
“My dad was always the assistant coach,” Spaid said. “He was the fun assistant coach instead of the mean assistant coach.”
Softball wasn’t always her main sport, though. Spaid spent her high school years as a multi-sport athlete, competing in basketball as well.
“I’d play fall travel softball, start practice for basketball, play basketball all winter, and still practice with my travel softball team on weekends,” Spaid said. “I was always busy but I enjoyed it.”
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Her hard work paid off. Spaid had an illustrious high school softball career, and was even on track to match or break Illinois state records before the COVID-19 pandemic caused her senior season to be canceled.
Even though she didn’t get to play that spring, Spaid made the decision on where to go next: Miami.
“I loved campus, and the girls were just so welcoming,” Spaid said. “The really nice facilities were also a major selling point.”
Her first year happened to coincide with Head Coach Kirin Kumar’s first year in Oxford. Coach Kumar recalls struggles Spaid had as a first-year.
“On the second or third weekend she got in trouble in the dugout for goofing around, and she got benched for a few games,” Kumar said. “One day at practice I thought the message had been sent, and she’s been out there ever since.”
Spaid received the message loud and clear. Her first season ended with her being named MAC Freshman of the Year and to the All-MAC first team. A chance to go international followed, being named to Team USA’s Junior National Team for a World Cup in Peru.
“My gold medal is hanging in my room,” Spaid said. “Being able to represent your country is an amazing experience that I had never even dreamed of.”
As a sophomore in 2022, Spaid focused her mindset on winning and self-improvement. With the reality of college softball having settled, Spaid learned to move past failure and how to grow from it.
“I gave myself a bit more grace than I had the year before,” Spaid said. “I learned to not let the little things, like the occasional strikeout, bother me.”
As Spaid grew as a player, the RedHawks continued to find success on the field. Her first two seasons featured back to back NCAA Regional appearances, one in Lexington, KY and another in Blacksburg, VA.
Her experiences in both regionals were a bit different.
“Freshman year in Lexington, I was shaking every time I entered the box, and I don’t think I really believed in myself at that point,” Spaid said. “Having that experience really helped because I was much more calm and confident when we got to Blacksburg.”
Now entering her third season at Miami, the pre-season accolades have racked up. ExtraInningSoftball rated her the second best third baseman in the country, and D1Softball.com rated her the 32nd best player in America. Spaid says the accolades have been humbling.
“It’s crazy because you dream of it when you’re little,” Spaid said. “I thought it was just a dream.”
After her playing days at Miami are over, Spaid isn’t sure where life will take her.
“If the opportunity arises, I’d love to stick with softball,” Spaid said. “If not, something in sports, maybe sports marketing, but I really don’t know.
Wherever she ends up, Spaid knows she has grown as a player and person at Miami. Her coach agrees.
“She’s matured because I think she knew she could do it, but didn’t know she could do it at this level,” Coach Kumar said. “Even when she makes a mistake, she admits it and gets over it quickly, and that’s what leaders do. Her confidence has grown a lot as well.”
Miami softball continues its season at the DeMarini Invitational in Palo Alto, CA, on March 3, against the University of California Golden Bears.