Cheyenne Nunez and her family celebrate her graduation from the University of South Florida on Aug. 21. From left are Justin Gonzalez, Eddy Gonzalez, Edelyn Gonzalez, Joleyne Nunez, Peggy Nunez, Elianna Gonzalez, Cheyenne Nunez, Daliyah Nunez and Daniel Nunez Sr. (Courtesy photo)
Cheyenne Nunez graduated from the University of South Florida on Aug. 21 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.
“The graduation was amazing,” said Nunez, 23. “I am the first generation in my family to get a bachelor’s degree.”
After spending two years as a student athlete at State College of Florida, Bradenton, Nunez transferred to the University of South Carolina Upstate where she played softball for the NCAA Division I school. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she transferred to USF for her senior year to finish her degree.
“College was a great experience, it changed my life,” Nunez said. “You don’t even realize how big the world can be. If I would have stayed at home, I wouldn’t have known who I was as a person. It made me come out of my shell, it raised my confidence.”
After transferring to USF, Nunez got engaged to Eddy Gonzalez, became pregnant and prepared to give birth during her last semester’s midterm exams. She notified her teachers, who wished her the best, but Nunez knew she still had to take the exams. She gave birth to her daughter, Elianna Gonzalez, shortly thereafter.
“It was hard, but worth it in the end,” she said. “I slowed down, but I didn’t give up. Elianna was my motivation to keep going.”
Nunez believes everyone should at least try college, including her two younger sisters, Joleyne and Daliyah, both students at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School in Brighton. She wants to be a role model and motivate them to achieve success.
“I always knew when you are good at something, you just have to keep going,” Nunez said. “There are a lot of people who look up to you even if you don’t know it. I want to leave a really big legacy.”
A strong work ethic got Nunez through college and her collegiate softball career. She believes in trying to get 1% better at something every day.
“Focus on one thing and over time, you will be a completely different person,” she said. “One thing we can’t stop or get back is time, so you might as well use the time we have to get better.”
Nunez learned a lot more than playing the game during her years as a softball player. She learned plenty of life skills, such as working with people and being resilient.
During her sophomore year on the SCF Bradenton Manatees, Nunez broke the college record for stolen bases in a season. The record was 24, so she wanted that 25th steal. To this day, she doesn’t remember what team they were playing, but she broke the record and her team won the game.
“We were hot that year,” Nunez recalled. “It was the hardest I ever ran in my life. I broke the record at the college level; that was so unreal to me.”
By the end of her career, Nunez notched 39 stolen bases. She said it is still a record. Nunez used to practice sliding and reading balls from the catcher’s hand.
“Sliding isn’t as graceful as it looks, it hurts sometimes,” she said. “I was the first batter; my goal was to get on base. I didn’t get home runs. Once I got on base, then it was me against the catcher.”
Before she graduated, Nunez spoke to her former head coach, Mandy Schuerman, at SCF Bradenton about her post-collegiate plans. Schuerman offered Nunez a job as an assistant coach for her old team and she accepted.
“She is bringing a special type of knowledge to our program as she has played for us in the past,” Schuerman said in an email to the Tribune. “She is able to transition her role from player to coach seamlessly. She is also young and relatable to our current athletes’ needs.”
Nunez started her job a few days before she graduated.
“I’m excited to coach these girls,” Nunez said. “I’m excited to take everything I learned from the Division I level and bring it back to the junior college level. I haven’t been out of the game too long, I’m still fresh. I tell them I was in their shoes not too long ago. I am ready to give them tips on how to be successful and become more organized, because they will have to study a lot.”
Nunez believes courage and resiliency are the most important things to learn and she plans to teach them to the student-athletes she coaches.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to take a chance, in life you should always be willing to take a risk,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of the unknown; if you do are then you already lost half the battle.”
Nunez’s family, including her father Daniel, mother Peggy and her sisters attended the graduation along with her fiancé Gonzalez, his siblings Justin and Edelyn, and daughter Elianna.