Making The Grade: Sam Koehn

Humility and talent have guided senior Sam Koehn to success on the diamond and in her sports management major.

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Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt

Sam Koehn has become quite well-traveled throughout her college life and she is better off for it. The senior, an Altoona, Iowa, native was originally committed to play softball for Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. After one year with the Thundering Herd, Koehn found her way to another herd at North Dakota State.


Koehn seemed to fit right into Darren Mueller’s illustrious program upon her arrival in 2019. She played in 56 games at third base in 2019, hitting .262 with four home runs in her inaugural season in Fargo. The senior was trending up in her junior campaign in 2020 too. Koehn was hitting .290 with a team-leading 13 RBIs before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the mental rigors of quarantine and the lack of competition, Koehn has yet to waver. Despite the canceled season, Koehn was selected to the Summit League All-Academic Team last spring. Her 3.94 GPA in sports management was one of the best marks on the team and in the conference.

Her positive attitude and humility toward success are a breath of fresh air in a time where negativity dominated our conversations. In that sense, Sam Koehn is something special as an athlete, a student and a person.

How did you decide on a sports management major? How did you come to that decision?

I am not very good at decision making. If you ask Darren [Mueller], I’m sure he would say the same. When I was at Marshall, I was an exercise science major. However, when I transferred, I was too far behind in the major here to pursue it. Sports management was the best fit with a business administration minor. I’ve taken a couple of science classes, just in case. I thought I wanted to be a chiropractor so I was trying to get the prerequisites for that. Right now, I’m kind of thinking I want to graduate and go back and get my master of education.

When you say master of education, the first thing I think of with a sports management undergrad is eventually becoming an administrator in an athletics department. What are some goals that you’ve set for yourself in terms of where you want to end up professionally after you graduate?

I’m thinking I want to go back with a teaching degree and do more of the teaching/coaching stuff. I coached a travel team this summer, and it was never something I thought I would be interested in and I really enjoyed it. I don’t want to say administrators aren’t as hands-on, but I think I would want to be in the classroom.

When you first came to NDSU, what were some of the biggest challenges for you, not only from an athletic standpoint but what were some of those challenges away from the field for you as a transfer?

I don’t want to throw shade or anything, but academically NDSU definitely has a higher standard. I think away from the classroom, it’s a lot easier to know people when you all come in as freshmen at the same time. Especially from an athletic standpoint, you know freshmen from other sports too. That was something I really missed at Marshall, I felt really close with a lot of other freshmen from other sports teams. Coming here, you don’t really have that as a transfer. I know everyone is really close and I’ve gotten there especially now as a senior. The first year was kind of rough trying to figure it out.

Here at NDSU, they give you so many resources, especially academically. How important is it to have all of those resources at your disposal?

I cannot praise Kelli and Carter enough because they do a really good job. Kelli is amazing. She has seen and done everything and so she’s really good even to just to go in and talk to and bounce ideas off of. Transfers do it and I know freshmen do as well, but you have mandatory once a week meetings with a GA usually or some kind of academic advisor. That was really helpful. It is hard to fail when someone is there every week telling you to do your schoolwork.

You were Summit League All-Academic last year. I always think that’s such an underrated accolade to get because everybody looks at the on-the-field awards. In that vein, what kind of qualities do you put at the top of your list to be successful in the classroom? Is it time management, discipline and hard work?

I would definitely say hard work. Time management is interesting, I feel that with softball the more I sign up to do, the easier it is to manage my time. It’s about holding yourself accountable. I know I have to get this done before practice, so I’ll get it done. Maybe I know we’re traveling, so I have to get it done before then.

What are some of the difficulties and maybe some of the positives for you inside the program’s travel model. You guys have to be really self-sufficient in your academics because you are on the road constantly going from place to place.

Kelli does a great job of if there is a test that you have to get done, she will go get it from your professor and have someone proctor it for you. I haven’t run into issues as much though. Most of my professors have been very understanding and really sports management has pretty much one professor. He has been really good about having stuff online or I can just come in and make it up whenever. I would say also having a personal relationship with your professors is important. If they trust you and know that you’re going to get stuff done and that you’re a good student, they’re more than willing to work with you.

What was your mindset as this pandemic was unfolding and seeing your season canceled? How has your mental state progressed as we’ve moved along?

I remember going to these tournaments right when we were starting to hear about COVID. I don’t want to say we were not taking it seriously, but I never could have imagined that it would look like what it does now. We kind of had a feeling going into our last practice that things were getting shut down. They had been for other schools and other people we knew had already been canceled. It was expected, but we couldn’t necessarily prepare for how we were going to feel when that did happen. I was lucky enough that I had another year anyway, but I couldn’t have imagined being a senior at that point. That could have potentially been their last day and they had no idea. It was weird, but I’m pretty good at making a routine and not letting my mind wander too much. I just tried to stick with that.

Are there any positives that you’ve taken away over the course of the last nine or so months as we get a little bit closer to softball season?

I think an advantage for us is that we were getting canceled right at the beginning of COVID. No one expected fall sports to get canceled or postponed. If things go how they should you have football, soccer, volleyball and everyone playing a season in the spring and then coming back in the fall and playing another season. I feel like that will be really hard on your body, it’s really hard on your mental state too. I think that is definitely an advantage for us that we play in the spring, and then we’ll still hopefully get the fall like normal, and then spring again. So you still get that break to ease off a little bit.

Where have you seen your biggest strides over the course of this extended break? Even in the latter half of last season before games got canceled, where have you seen your biggest growth steps on the softball field?

I’m a lot more confident than I have been in the past. I’ve always been pretty unsure of myself and having this break and having the season canceled, made me realize how much I want to be here. I want to be out there with my teammates doing the best that we can. I’m just a lot more sure of myself, I think.

How do you go about finding your voice as a leader as a senior knowing that you have a bunch of other seniors around you to rely on? How do you go about finding your voice?

Everyone has a different role. I am not someone who’s going to scream at people or anything because that’s not my personality. I’m not going to force myself to be someone I’m not. We read this leadership book this year as a team and that was one of the big things is that you don’t have to change your personality to be a leader. Just lead with what you have. I think of myself as the more empathetic one.

Sam Koehn
Third Base
Hometown: Altoona, Iowa
Major: Sports Management
– 2020 Summit League All-Academic Team
– 2019 NFCA Scholar-Athlete
– 2019 Summit League Honor Roll

Making The Grade: Sam Koehn
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