Jaida Speth is an outfielder.
Just don’t tell that to the hundreds of softball batters who have been, or will be, struck out by her on the diamond. Or those who did their best to defend her on the basketball court.
On Thursday, Speth is expected to sign her national letter of intent to play softball at IUPUI. She’ll likely roam the outfield for the Jaguars.
But she’s spent four years with the Comets showing off her competitiveness and ability to play multiple positions in multiple sports. She’s been part of a Division 2 state runner-up softball team and this year took her basketball game to new heights, earning first-team all-Southern Lakes Conference accolades.
“She knows so much about the game, and she’s always trying to help other people, which is really cool,” Delavan-Darien softball coach Hank Johnson said. “She can play any position on the field, so she’s able to tell some of our younger, inexperienced girls where they need to be.
“She’s willing to speak up. One of the reasons IUPUI wants her, is because she’s willing to talk and wants to be a leader.”
Speth’s senior year has certainly been a lesson in leadership.
In volleyball, she was one of four seniors on the Comets roster. Since then, though, it’s been all Speth. She was the only senior on the basketball team and is the lone senior in softball, as well.
That’s led to some trying times. The softball team is still waiting for its bats to get humming—a byproduct of the inclement spring weather, as well as inexperience. And the basketball team finished with a 2-19 record.
“It was tough, but I was really impressed by the end of the season,” Speth said. “We never quit, even when we were losing by 30. I did enjoy it, though. It was a big learning experience—a lot about perseverance.”
Speth averaged 17.4 points and more than 11 rebounds per game for the Comets.
“I would say I worked on it (basketball skills) a lot more last year than this year,” she said. “This year, I just knew I’m the only senior, and I was the only returning full-time varsity player.
“We were very inexperienced, with at least three sophomores on the floor at all time. I knew, with my experience, I just had to pick it up any way possible and score in any way I could.”
Speth has shown that versatility in softball, as well.
As a freshman, she played right field. As a sophomore, she was more of a shortstop or third baseman. That team, behind Speth’s older sister, Jennah, marched all the way to the Division 2 state championship game, finishing with a 25-7 record after losing a 2-1 heartbreaker to New Berlin West in the title game. Jaida played in all 32 games, hitting .385 and scoring 35 runs.
Last year, after Jennah graduated, Jaida took over as the Comets’ ace pitcher. She went 14-12 with a 2.90 ERA.
Those numbers may not look overly impressive on paper, but they’re pretty solid for a player pitching in the Southern Lakes Conference, the toughest softball conference in the state. Still, those marks sometimes leave the uber-competitive Speth frustrated.
“It’s a blessing and a curse, for sure,” Speth said of her competitive attitude. “I couldn’t imagine life without sports. It would be totally different. I would not be the person I am right now if I didn’t play sports or get into it so young.”
Some of that competitiveness was certainly passed down from Jaida’s parents, Maria and Marty, the latter of which took the reins as Delavan-Darien’s girls basketball program this season and is also an assistant coach in softball.
And that spirit has been seen in the attitudes of Jennah, as well as the youngest Speth, Jasmin, the Comets’ sophomore shortstop.
“We’re extremely competitive, and that’s why sometimes it’s hard to listen to each other when we’re trying to help out,” Jaida said. “I have an easier time listening to Jennah now that I’m not playing with her, and now that she has so much more knowledge. She’s played in college for two years, so it’s easy to listen to her now.”
In a fun twist, Jaida could find herself in the batter’s box against Jennah in the next two years. Jennah currently plays for Illinois-Chicago, a team that reached the NCAA super regionals last year and plays in the same conference as IUPUI.
“I’ve only played with her; I’ve never played against her,” Jaida said. “It’s definitely going to be super weird.”
Just don’t expect to see Jaida pitching to Jennah. Jaida expects her pitching career will likely end after this season, though she’d love to get one more chance at a state-tournament run.
“My sophomore year, we had some pretty big hitters and some solid defense, so that was nice,” Speth said. “This year, we definitely have the potential to go far. It just depends on how hard we want to work in practice.”