Washoe Tribe’s Kali Sargent living dream playing softball for Wolf Pack
This story was first published in the April 2017 edition of First Nation's Focus.
RENO, Nev. — Kali Sargent is living the dream.
Sargent has been throwing a softball since she was 10 years old. She was a standout pitcher/hitter at Douglas High School for three years (2013-15) and at Sacramento City College in 2016 before landing a scholarship at the University of Nevada, Reno that summer.
“Being a college athlete as a Native American is pretty huge,” Sargent said in a recent telephone interview. “Not a lot of Native Americans get that opportunity. I get a lot of support.
“I wanted to go to the University of Nevada since I was little. It has always been my dream. I’d been to their camp. It was a great opportunity, so I took it.”
Sargent’s rise to Division I status shouldn’t be a surprise. She has been successful everywhere she has played. She was the league’s Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore at Douglas, then hit .352 and compiled a 16-8 record with a 2.35 earned run average as a junior. Her senior numbers were even better — .398 and 15-6 with a 2.02 ERA.
At Sacramento City College, she hit .315 and compiled a 26-5 record with a 1.36 ERA and helped the Panthers finish as the California community college state tournament runner-up. She earned Big 8 Conference Pitcher of the Year honors and in one game against Santa Rosa, hit 3-for-3 with three home runs.
The softball field has always home away from home for Kali, a Washoe Tribe member. She has spent countless hours either playing or watching her mom, Dena, pitch in various Native American fast-pitch tournaments.
“When I was young, I was a pitcher,” said Dena, who helped Douglas win back-to-back 3A state softball championships in 1991-92. “I played in a lot of native tournaments, and Kali was always around it. She would always play with us and try to hang in there with us.
“There used to be 30 Native American tournaments, but there aren’t as many any more. Sometimes they would start on Thursdays and go through the weekend. It was a lot of time.”
It was only natural that Kali gravitated to the game.
And, Dena Sargent was right there every step of the way. The softball part of the relationship has drawn them closer.
She has been my pitching coach since I was 10,” Kali said. ”Yeah, there were times when I didn’t really want to go throw, and she had to get me out there sometimes.
“She comes to a lot of my games and sees things that I don’t see. We have a pretty close relationship. It’s nice to have somebody to rely on.”
After a couple of years playing locally for the Hot Shots in the Carson Valley Girls Softball League, Sargent made the anticipated jump to travel ball. That came with a price — time. It was pretty much softball every weekend, and a lot of the tournaments were on the road.
It was more than just driving over to Stodick Park in Douglas County a couple of times a week. It was spending all day Saturday and part of Sunday at the tournament site, watching and playing.
“Travel ball was fun,” Kali said. “As I got older, I got to play with girls that I played against during the season. It was more of a team effort.”
“There was some good competition (for her),” Dena said. “It does take up so much of your time. It’s so demanding. You have to be at all of the tournaments.”
It is where players are actually scouted. College coaches rarely, if ever, have a chance to watch kids play high school ball. Recruiting is done at summer tournaments. Softball does a good job of organizing showcase tournaments where you might see 15 or 20 college coaches in attendance.
Kali said she had a couple of offers out of high school, but they were out of state, and she wanted to stay closer to home.
She chose to play for Tim Kiernan at Sacramento City College. She was headed back there for a second season when the Nevada opportunity happened.
Brianne Durfee, the former Wooster High pitching standout, who is now Nevada’s pitching coach, discovered Sargent.
The Pack was in need of a No. 2 pitcher, and decided to give Sargent an opportunity.
“I never saw her pitch in junior college, just locally at some tournaments,” Durfee said. “We were looking around. She had good movement on the ball and I liked how she changed speeds.”
Sargent got off to a sizzling start during the 2017 season, winning her first two starts against Northern Illinois and Nicholls State before teams started catching up to her.
Struggling a bit in the first year of college is not uncommon, according to Durfee.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Durfee said. “It’s a process coming up to a different level. It is a lot more competitive. One through nine (in the Mountain West) are all great hitters. We have been working on making every pitch count; not taking any pitches off.
“It’s part of the adjustment, one level to the next. She is learning how to compete (at this level). It’s like she is a freshman.”
And, Sargent is the first to tell you she is learning every day.
“It’s a big step,” Sargent said. “I haven’t been making every pitch count. Lately I’m leaving the ball up too much, and you can’t do that against good hitters like I’m seeing all the time.”
Experience and maturity should help her during the course of the next two years.
After gold was found in California, silver was discovered in Virginia City, and the Comstock bonanza lured those seeking riches onto Washoe terrain. The settlers viewed the land as an object of financial opportunity. In a very short time, pine nuts, seeds, game and fish had been overused. The harmonious rhythm that the Washoe had maintained was broken.