NIWOT -- It's not as if Nickie Blue did not spend her entire Niwot softball career attempting to improve at least a little bit every day.

Still, as Blue's senior season was about to unfold a few months ago, Cougars coach Bobby Matthews wanted to uncover a way to maximize Blue's overall impact on what would be a rather young Niwot squad. In that spirit, Matthews challenged Blue to become the sort of leader that the young Cougars not only would listen to, but would run through a proverbial wall for.

Blue proved every bit as exceptional as a leader as she was as a pitcher.

After dominating in the pitcher's circle while providing steady leadership for a lineup comprised mostly of freshmen that nonetheless made a run into the Class 4A state championship game, the University of South Carolina recruit has been named the BoCoPrep.com Softball Player of the Year.

"Last year, my junior year, was kind of rough because we didn't really get along well as a team," Blue said. "It kind of all blew up in our face and it didn't end right for me. I came back more motivated than ever for my senior year. I wanted to do it right because I not only owe it to me, I owe it to the people around me. They don't deserve my half-effort."

So serious was Blue's commitment to her role as a leader that she embarked on the endeavor with much more than a few pats on the back and high-volume pregame speeches. Blue devoured books pertaining to the art of leadership, delving into the minds of such renowned athletic leaders as John Wooden. On a more personal note, Blue went out of her way to take each and every one of her teammates out for lunch for a little one-on-one time.

"When Bobby at the beginning of the season asked her to take on that leadership role, I was finding more leadership books in my home than ever before," said Blue's father, Jim Blue. "She really took it upon herself to be a leader. I think she did a good job at it."

Of course, while Blue's leadership undoubtedly was critical for the Cougars, the team's journey to the Class 4A state title game hinged much more heavily on her monstrously talented right arm, and few pitchers in Colorado history delivered the sort of season Blue turned in this fall.

Blue went 21-2 and led the state by a wide margin in earned-run average (0.47) and strikeouts, amassing 287 K's while allowing only 10 earned runs in 149 innings. Blue reached double-digit strikeout figures in 19 of her 23 starts, including a pair of 18-strikeout efforts against Valley on Sept. 7 and Broomfield on Sept. 27.

The Northern League Player of the Year was no slouch at the plate either, posting a .520 batting average with five home runs and a team-leading 33 RBIs.

"I talked to her about being a leader, and she totally embraced it," Niwot coach Bobby Matthews said. "She completely took it the way she worked on her batting skills or anything else. The maturity she has shown as a leader was pretty amazing. She learned to balance being a leader and performing on the field. She's made the program better."

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