NIWOT -- The Horseshoe is perhaps the most prominent landmark at one of the country's oldest universities, an aptly-shaped promenade upon which sits many of the most historic buildings at the University of South Carolina, which was founded in 1801.
It was the Horseshoe that first drew in Nickie Blue.
The mutual infatuation between Blue and the Gamecocks' softball program reached the end of one chapter and the beginning of another on Wednesday, as Blue signed her name on a National Letter of Intent. The Cougars' standout pitcher will compete for coach Beverly Smith, who led South Carolina to a 15-win improvement during her first season and has compiled a 49-62 record in two seasons overall.
Blue visited South Carolina for the first time in October of 2011. While she didn't exactly take to the heat and humidity, Blue nonetheless felt an immediate connection with the campus.
"There were so many new things around me that I wanted to see and grasp," Blue said. "The Horseshoe, that was one of the first places they took me to. There's still a lot of the old buildings from when it was first made. That founding part of South Carolina I really loved, and continuing the tradition of South Carolina really intrigued me."
While Blue had plenty of suitors, her final choices essentially came down to South Carolina, Ohio State, and Colorado State, where her father went to school. While Ohio State basically faded into the background, the temptation to stay close to home was an attraction Blue could not overlook when considering CSU.
Yet the enthusiasm Blue encountered when she first met Smith convinced Blue she had a home in the Southeastern Conference.
"When I went, they had just gotten new coaches, so obviously there was going to be new things for them and me," Blue said. "Coach Bev, she wasn't new to coaching but she was new to South Carolina. The fact that she was so excited and intrigued by the tradition of South Carolina already really interested me. She loved it so much already, I thought I'd love that feeling as well."
Blue compiled a boggling 21-2 record in the pitcher's circle this fall for the Cougars, allowing only 10 earned runs in 149 innings while recording 287 strikeouts. Although her future remains as a pitcher, Blue wasn't too shabby at the plate, posting team-leading totals of a .520 batting average, five home runs, and 33 RBI's.
Blue led an otherwise young Niwot team into the Class 4A state championship game, where the Cougars dropped a heartbreaking 4-2 decision against Pueblo East.
"She has left a footprint on this program that no other player ever has, and may never will," Niwot softball coach Bobby Matthews said. "She's made these freshmen realize that this is how you're supposed to play. Every girl's goal is to leave the program better than when they got here. Nobody has done that like Nickie."
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