(KMAland) -- Growing up in a sports-mad family, competition rarely eluded Sam Stewart. And Stewart has always thrived on competition.
The Mount Ayr multi-sport star is the 2019-20 KMAland Female Athlete of the Year. It’s hard to put one word on such a multi-faceted standout, but if we had to it would be competitor.
“She competes at everything,” her softball coach Bret Ruggles told KMA Sports. “She has to win.”
“She’s so dang competitive,” Mount Ayr girls basketball coach Thad Streit added.
Whether it’s sprints at basketball practice, running out to her position in softball or even table tennis with her teammate Abigail Barnes, Stewart competes to win in everything.
“There were a lot of games and game-watching (growing up),” Stewart said. “I remember watching (older cousin Jensen Stewart) at state. I wanted to be there. We’re just all very competitive. We push each other in everything.”
The competition became extra fierce this summer during softball season when Stewart and Barnes would stage pre-game table tennis matches.
“We’re very competitive (in table tennis),” Stewart said. “We would go to Abigail’s grandma’s before the game, and it would get very intense. There would be yelling, and her grandma would have to come downstairs.”
And when Stewart would lose a game of table tennis, it’s something that would stick with her right up to game time, according to Coach Ruggles.
“We would have to tell her to forget the loss,” he said. “She would basically (complain) all through batting practice.”
The competitive juices even flowed as her and her sister Maddie — the team’s second baseman — raced out to their position between innings.
“We always like to joke around about who is better and who is stronger,” Stewart said. “Everything is a competition between us.”
And maybe without the non-stop competitive vibes, Stewart wouldn’t be where she is today, which is on her way to Peru State to play college basketball.
From the moment she first watched her cousin play at state basketball for the Raiderettes, Stewart knew that it was a sport she wanted to devote herself to. And the natural talents — her quickness, her instincts and her fierce defensive mentality — lent itself to plenty of success.
This past season, Stewart broke the single-game scoring record against Southeast Warren (45), went over 1,000 career points in that very same game and became the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“I knew she was going to be really good when I saw her in junior high,” Coach Streit said. “She probably could have and should have played for us as a freshman.”
“I’ve always played (basketball),” Stewart added. “We played a lot when we were little. My coach when I was little really helped me a lot, talked me through a lot and made me better. I just continued to love the sport as I grew up.”
Stewart’s numbers this past season were as gaudy as they have ever been. Her defense (4.6 steals per game) would often lead to her offense (24.7 points per game). She was the only player in the state to rank among the top 13 in both categories.
“I’ve always been able to think about where girls are going to pass and what their next move is,” Stewart said. “I follow people’s eyes, and I’m able (to get the steal).”
“She’s the best off-ball defender I’ve ever coached,” Streit said. “She’s so dang quick.”
Stewart, who was the KMA Sports POI Player of the Year and an All-KMAland Elite Team member, also had plenty of successes in her other sports. She led her team in kills this past volleyball season and then guided the Raiderettes back to Fort Dodge and the state softball tournament while hitting .533.
Of course, there was never a guarantee Stewart and her team would get a season at all. That’s after she missed out on her senior year of track, and so when the opportunity presented itself, she knew it was one that they needed to take advantage of.
“Just being able to play with my team,” Stewart said. “Just to have one last go-round. Nobody thought we were going to be done after basketball, and just being able to play one more time in a Raiderette jersey (was memorable).”
As competitive as she is talented and versatile, Stewart is our first KMAland Female Athlete of the Year from Mount Ayr and from the Pride of Iowa Conference.
The award stayed in Shenandoah the past three years with the great Logan Hughes, who followed Harlan’s Taylor Frederick, two-time winner and KMA Sports Hall of Famer Kate Walker of Red Oak and another KMA Sports Hall of Famer in Chaley Rath of Treynor.
Listen to much more with Stewart in the full interview, first played on Upon Further Review, linked below.
Previous KMAland Athlete of the Year Winners
2019: Logan Hughes, Shenandoah
2018: Logan Hughes, Shenandoah
2017: Logan Hughes, Shenandoah
2016: Taylor Frederick, Harlan
2015: Kate Walker, Red Oak
2014: Kate Walker, Red Oak
2013: Chaley Rath, Treynor