Softball: Oswego junior Kiyah Chavez is the Record Newspapers Player of the Year

Iowa recruit broke single-season hit record, led Oswego to third place in Class 4A

Oswego's Kiyah Chavez reacts after hiting an inside the park home run against Mundelein during the Class 4A third place game on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.

Oswego junior catcher Kiyah Chavez understands that there is a fine line between cocky and confident, and she’s walked both sides.

Nobody questions her confidence.

Early this season on the team’s trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, Chavez found herself at the plate as the last batter in a tie game reaching its time limit, with runners on second and third. Oswego coach Paul Netzel instructed his third base coach to have Chavez swing away.

Against her coach’s wishes, Chavez looked at Bella Lisle at third base and gave her the signal for a squeeze bunt.

“Sure enough, she put the bunt down, and Bella was easily safe at home,” Netzel said. “When Kiyah gets something in her mind, she’s determined to do it.”

That determination drove Oswego to a historic season.

The No. 3 hitter in a lineup that rewrote the program record book, Chavez batted .496 with 12 of Oswego’s 47 home runs. The Iowa commit drove in 46 runs and smashed the Oswego single-season hit record with 61, helping lead the Panthers to their first regional championship in 37 years, first-ever sectional title and first state appearance. Oswego took third in Class 4A with a record 29 wins.

Kiyah Chavez is the Record Newspapers softball Player of the Year.

“It’s special,” Chavez said. “Every competitor wants to do something that will be remembered. You want to be part of a phenomenal season. So cool that we did that.”

Up and down the stat sheet, Chavez put up numbers that are testimony to the kind of season she had.

The most impressive to Netzel?

In 141 plate appearances, she had zero strikeouts.

“Assistant coach Nick Schaeflein mentioned that to me the other day and I said ‘You’re joking,’” Netzel said. “You look at MLB players, they’ll strike out 500 or 600 times in a career. That’s unbelievable. She always came up with the big hit, the clutch fly ball, the sacrifice bunt.”

Chavez was aware of her strikeout stat, and wasn’t surprised. She set a goal this season to strike out three or fewer times. She was taught at a young age the value of productive outs.

In her first two at-bats of a sectional semifinal win over Wheaton Warrenville South, Chavez drove sacrifice flies into a strong wind. She laid down bunt singles in Oswego’s supersectional and third-place game wins over Minooka and Mundelein.

“She’s always been good at making contact,” Netzel said. “She got into a phase this season where she wanted to bunt, sacrifice bunts, beat them out. She worked real hard on that. She had a couple suicide squeezes that turned into game winners.”

Oswego’s Kiyah Chavez (10) smiles after rounding third base after hitting a home run against Downers Grove South during a softball game at Oswego High School on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Chavez also had 23 extra-base hits, 17 more than her sophomore year. There is no secret to the sock behind the 5-foot-3 girl’s bat.

“Lifting” she said.

She always wanted to lift, and had a gym in her basement with 25-pound dumbbells. Sophomore year she took a class with football coach John Hugunin, and Chavez lifted with the football team for a couple months.

She started punching the alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. for early workouts with teammates Aubriella Garza and Natalie Muellner.

“Coach Hugunin taught me how fun lifting can be,” Chavez said. “It’s a huge part of what I am now.”

Chavez batted .375 in 25 games as a sophomore, but missed the stretch run of the season with torn muscles in her thumb. Oswego, perhaps not coincidentally, was upset in its first playoff game.

A sensational summer caught colleges’ eyes, and Chavez ended up committing to Iowa. It carried right into a breakout spring.

“The biggest part of my game that improved was the mental side of it,” Garza said. “I had been in situations and settings where all I had was pressure on myself and I couldn’t do it. I was trying so hard not to fail. Once I realized that at the end of the day it’s a sport, try to have fun, it’s a game is when I truly succeeded. I’m here to do my best and have fun.”

Chavez has never lacked for confidence.

She said she gets that personality from her dad, who she laughed could “talk to a wall.” Chavez admits that when she came in as as a freshman she was “a cocky little thing.”

But she said that coaches “beat it out of her.” To hear Netzel’s version, a few Oswego seniors took it upon themselves to put Chavez in her place. It was a benefit to her.

“I think it’s OK to be cocky on the field but once you step off you can’t have that anymore,” Chavez said. “I try not to say anything about my accomplishments. At the end of the day it’s a team sport. But one of my goals is being a leader and as a leader you represent yourself as confident. Teammates watch how you behave. If I’m acting not confident and small they will feel that way too. I have to show teams that we own this field.”

Oswego's Kiyah Chavez (10) looks for the sign from the dugout during Class 4A Plainfield North Sectional final softball game between Wheaton North at Oswego. May 31th, 2024.

Indeed, Chavez is in charge behind the plate, keeping baserunners on their toes with snap throws to first or third. Umpires will tell Netzel that she is the most fun catcher to umpire behind, that they’ll know when they make a bad call but she asks in such a nice way.

At the state tournament, a celebration dinner, Chavez was up at the head table talking with the umpire.

“Who do we have as umpire the next day?” Netzel said. “The ump Kiyah was talking to the night before. She’s so outgoing.”

“I try my best to be friendly with umpires, try to get to know their names, if they’re feeling me. If not, I’ll show them respect,” Chavez said. “There is 100% a huge difference between being confident and cocky. I try to stay in the line and not cross over.

“But when I’m on that field the other team is the opposition. I’ll chirp at them. I like being edgy. It is fun. We all feed off each other.”