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Generational Ace: Kamryn Meyer Is Mid-Major Ace, High School Coach, Kindergarten Teacher 

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Kamryn Meyer knows the question is coming. She can’t stifle the wince when it does. 

Yes, her teammates sometimes call her “Ms. Meyer.” Yes, she nods ruefully, yes they do. 

They’re teasing, of course. Omaha’s fifth-year ace isn’t just old enough to be their teacher, the education major was literally a kindergarten teacher this past fall. Then again, considering the high volume of turnover on Omaha’s roster this season, and the fact that her teaching duties kept her out of most fall practices, maybe they are just being polite to their elders. To the stranger who showed up throwing heat in January. 

In May, Meyer led Omaha to its first ever NCAA regional and first tournament win. Now, she’s back for her final season, the additional year of eligibility granted to all players affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That part doesn’t make her all that much different from a host of peers, even if she’s the only one who had a 1.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 283 strikeouts in 189.1 innings a season ago (she ranked 17th in the nation in WAR, sandwiched between All-Americans Jayda Coleman and Taryn Kern).

It’s her offseason that sends her story down a path all its own. For a program like Omaha, Meyer is a once-in-a-generation talent in the circle. But it’s her affection for and commitment to future generations, on and off the field, that promises to form her more lasting legacy in this life. 

In-between her final pitch against Louisiana last spring and her first pitch this February, she served as pitching coach for Wilton High School in Wilton, Iowa, for the third consecutive summer and spent her fall teaching a kindergarten class in Omaha. She’s still a student, a student-athlete as the NCAA insists. But she’s also a teacher. Ms. Meyer, if you please. 

“I love the younger generation, being able to form their minds,” Meyer said. “I was so nervous going into my student teaching. I didn’t know if I wanted kindergarten, but coming out of it, that was probably the best experience that I could have had because now I know that I can teach kindergarten. You may hear your name 500 times a day, but it was awesome seeing them start the year knowing no letters of the alphabet to, when I left in December, they had known them since October.

“Being able to see that growth was super cool and super rewarding.”

Teaching the Next Generation 

Meyer arrived at Omaha planning to major in kinesiology, envisioning a future as an athletic trainer. An anatomy class changed her mind. But if memorizing the 200-plus bones in the human body seemed daunting, herding 20 kindergarteners hardly seems easier. 

Growing up, her mom often remarked that she had a knack with children. Her only two siblings are older, but from younger cousins to the offspring of family friends, kids gravitated to her—just as she always seemed to end up holding any baby that happened to be in the room. Omaha’s early childhood inclusive education major, covering everything from birth to third grade, prepares students to meet teaching requirements but also focuses on issues relating to infant and toddler care. For Meyer, it sounded far better than anatomy.

She will graduate in May with dual degrees in early childhood education inclusive and multidisciplinary studies, but first she had to complete her student-teaching requirements. That’s why she was in an Omaha classroom this past fall. Meyer played for state titles in high school. She has pitched epic battles against Summit League rivals like South Dakota State and North Dakota State, logging 24 innings in barely 48 hours in the 2022 conference tournament. She is used to having all eyes on her in the middle of the field. But walking into an actual, working classroom for the first time, when all of the eyes are on you and none of them belong to people old enough to read, it’s a different sort of nervousness. 

“I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of failure, but I don’t like failure,” Meyer said. “So, it was a feeling of not being comfortable in this situation, whereas on the diamond, I’m super comfortable where I am. I know the game of softball so well.

“I mean, yes, they would have never known if I messed up. But I know that my teacher knows what I’m supposed to be doing, so that fear of messing up was big in the back of my head.”

Committing to the student-teaching schedule meant putting softball on the back burner. She still had to wake up every morning to lift weights around 5 o’clock, but she wasn’t a part of fall practices. Fully supportive of her academic efforts, and also no dummy if the alternative was starting anew in the circle, Omaha coach Mike Heard assured her they would make it work. She would go straight from school to fall ball games, warm up and throw. Coming in after Christmas break, she hadn’t thrown much at all since the last fall game in early October. 

The reward went beyond fulfilling a requirement. She had heard some horror stories about student-teaching stints that went awry. She lucked out in landing with a terrific mentor, the full-time teacher who was in the classroom with her had taught kindergarten for nearly two decades. And if Meyer couldn’t always make the kids do her bidding with quite the same grace as she made the ball dance on the field, the moments of success were unforgettable. 

Watching kids gradually learn to recognize and sound out the letters in their names, unlocking a lifetime of learning, offered no less of a rush than getting a batter to chase a rise ball. 

Meyer has a 1.98 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 28.1 IP so far this season (photo: Omaha Athletics)

Coaching the Next Generation  

Asked which group is more challenging to control between a classroom full of kindergarteners or a bus full of high school softball players, Meyer didn’t even hesitate. 

“Definitely the high schoolers,” she chuckled. 

Meyer had just completed her first full collegiate season when she took on a gig as the pitching coach at Wilton High School in 2021. Pulling double duty would be tricky in most circumstances, all the more given that her hometown is more than four hours east of Omaha, but Iowa’s summer season for high school softball changed the calculations. 

No, the problem wasn’t logistics. It was loyalty. 

Wilton, you see, is the arch rival of Durant Community School, which happens to be the school for which Meyer earned all-state honors on the field. Trading camps ruffled a few feathers, all the more after she helped Wilton reach the state finals her first two summers, but the opportunity to pass on knowledge was too rewarding to let slip away. 

As easy as Meyer makes pitching look these days—Tennessee’s Payton Gottshall is the only active Division I pitcher with more strikeouts and Oklahoma’s Kelly Maxwell and South Dakota State’s Tori Kniesche the only active peers with better strikeout rates—she couldn’t find the strike zone when she arrived at Omaha. She knew where it was in high school, to be sure, but when she got to college and realized everyone on the field had been a high school star, the internal GPS malfunctioned. In 50 innings before the pandemic shut down the season, she walked 30, hit six and threw 12 wild pitches. 

There wasn’t any quick fix, no secret that unlocked an answer. Not that she could tell, anyway. It just took time, and steady support from catcher Sydney Ross, who has been with her the entire time at Omaha. One of the more familiar axioms in sports is that great athletes often struggle to be great coaches, unable to understand the game as mere mortals experience it. But for Meyer, while 55 wins and 800 strikeouts (and counting) in Division I are impressive credentials, that bout with the yips was her best training and her motivation to give up her summers to coach.

At the high school level, she’s not pouring over reams of data on opposing hitters or studying Synergy clips until her eyes hurt. She’s focused on her pitchers, what they do well and how to help them find the peace of mind to do that more. 

“I think what I like is the mental side of it,” Meyer said of coaching. “Being able to talk the pitchers through situations, what they’re doing and how we can figure out, maybe if something isn’t working, what can we do different, like maybe using a different pitch. … 

“Over the course of my five years, I’ve really figured out my mental side of it. I try not to get as worked up. I try and find the positive in every pitch. I think I take that into coaching—like I always ask them ‘What was good about that pitch?’ Focus on the good before moving to what we can work on. I think that definitely helps me communicate. And I relate to them a lot.”

Again, given the games she’s won as a pitcher—sometimes seemingly almost singlehandedly—it’s a little surprising to hear her suggest she might prefer coaching. It’s difficult to give up the control she is accustomed to having once the game begins, but she’s a born teacher. 

“I think it’s a bit more rewarding to see it as a coach,” Meyer said. “I just feel like you’ve seen all of the work that the players have put in, throughout the whole summer. You know the heat that they’re playing in and all of the conditions that Midwest weather brings.” 

That isn’t to say she won’t try to ring every pitch possible out of the time that remains in her Omaha career, maybe even complicating her own life with a postseason run. But when that pitch does come, she’ll return to Wilton and help her high schoolers figure out how to throw a changeup and perhaps how to navigate life.

“I definitely try and make sure that they understand that they’re people first and if they make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world,” Meyer said. “The overall thing is just be a good person, whether that’s on the field, to your opponent or in the classroom. Sometimes they get attitudes, and I’m like ‘Would you treat your teachers the way you’re treating your teammates right now?’ So it’s trying to give them that different perspective. 

“And it’s reminding them you’re more than the game of softball. I think that’s the biggest message that I want to send to them is this game does not define you.”

She doesn’t let it define her, tempting thought that must be when you play it better than most. 

There are some elementary school teaching positions open in the school district. It would be a good place to begin a career. 

And when the kids call her Ms. Meyer 400 times a day, they won’t be teasing. 

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