It is commonplace for athletes to believe they have found the proper fit with a college, only to get there and realize their perceptions were all wrong.
Former Niwot pitcher Nickie Blue, a freshman at South Carolina, is not one of those athletes.
“It’s been great. Everything I thought it could be,” Blue said. “I honestly couldn’t be any happier with where I decided to go.”
Blue is ecstatic as can be in Columbia, S.C., and who can blame her? She has garnered an immediate starting role with the Gamecocks and has produced mightily. She entered the weekend with lofty numbers — a 15-6 record and a 2.94 ERA in 126 innings.
A co-ace along with junior Julie Sarratt, Blue has adapted well to the challenges of the softball-rich Southeastern Conference. She took the state by storm as a senior in 2012-13 with a 21-2 record, 0.47 ERA and 287 strikeouts in helping Niwot to a runner-up finish in Class 4A.
The start to her college career has proven that those numbers weren’t hollow.
“It’s the best players in the country, so the biggest transition has been staying focused every pitch and going after every single batter without getting to take a break,” Blue said. “You just have to have that constant killer mindset to get the job done.”
Blue will return to Colorado in the summer and help coach one of the Colorado Stars teams. In the meantime, she’s turning heads as one of the SEC’s top freshmen.
“The SEC is a tough conference to cut your teeth in, and she’s really handled that stage very, very well,” South Carolina coach Beverly Smith said. “The other thing is the strike zone is tough on pitchers, so I think she’s done a nice job being able to adjust to the umpires’ strike zone throughout the game.”
Smith also lauded Blue’s composure and her ability to face upper-echelon, adjustment-savvy hitters about four times a game. The coach also believes Blue has plenty of room to add facets to her game. Her ceiling could still be a few seasons away.
“I don’t think she’s close to as good as she’s going to get,” said Smith, who was accomplished at developing pitchers as an assistant at North Carolina before coming to the Gamecocks. “I think we’ll continue to add pitches to her repertoire. She’ll be able to mix it up more going forward.”
Also an accomplished hitter in high school, both in regards to power and average, Blue has had only six at-bats this season (she has one hit and one RBI). That will change, though, according to Smith. The Gamecocks have only three pitchers this season, so those three are concentrating solely on pitching.
They’ll add another pitcher next season, freeing up time for Blue and Sarratt to take regular turns in the lineup.
Blue’s success has been a joy to follow for Niwot coach Bobby Matthews, who knew she had Division I ability and was fairly certain the skills would transfer to the higher level.
“Still, you have that glimmer of doubt because she’s playing in the SEC, a strong softball conference,” Matthews said. “You just don’t know how it’s going to be going to school every day, the academics, the road trips. So, does it surprise me? No. Is it pretty cool to watch? Definitely.”
Follow Paul on Twitter: twitter.com/PaulWillis21