Monday, August 19

Freshman brings national team experience, versatility to softball lineup

Madilyn Nickles will offer the Bruins tremendous depth in the circle. The freshman will join three battle-tested pitchers as well as highly touted redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia. (USA Softball)

Madilyn Nickles will offer the Bruins tremendous depth in the circle. The freshman will join three battle-tested pitchers as well as highly touted redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia. (USA Softball)

Since childhood, she has always been a Bubba among Madilyns.

On nearly every softball team that she has played for, Madilyn Nickles has shared a first name with at least one teammate. Things got pretty confusing.

“My dad, he would always try and get my attention by just yelling Madilyn or Maddie, and I would never really listen,” Nickles said. “His family is from Tennessee, and they’re all about southern nicknames, so he started calling me Bubba and people liked it because it was so unique.”

Even today, Nickles’ streak of Madilyns, regardless of spelling, continues. When the incoming UCLA freshman spent this past summer as the youngest member of the USA Softball Women’s Elite Team, current Bruins catcher Madeline Jelenicki was among her teammates, as were 2016 UCLA graduates Allexis Bennett and Mysha Sataraka. The past, present and future Bruins competed together in the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

[Related: Two Bruins win gold at the Women’s Softball World Championship]

“The expectation of playing in front of a big crowd and being able to execute, and also just being able to learn from some of those older girls is very valuable,” said UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. “The experience that she gained with the national team is going to help with her confidence.”

Nickles batted .500 on the Elite Team, with a home run and three RBI in her nine plate appearances.

Her outstanding resume extends back to her years at Merced High School in Northern California. The 5-foot-8 right hander was a dominant force both at the plate and in the circle at Merced. She hit .552 her senior year, with 20 doubles and eight home runs, and never struck out in any of her 87 at bats. Nickles also amassed a career-high 308 strikeouts and a 0.63 ERA as a pitcher. Her 20wins led the Bears (22-7) to the semifinal of the 2016 CIF Sac-Joaquin Division I Section Championship.

Nickles was also the youngest member of the 2015 USA Junior Women’s National Team who won the WBSC Junior Women’s World Championship in 2015. She was also named the 2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year, which is awarded to the country’s best high school softballer.

[Related: Six Bruins earn national player of the year awards]

“She’s got speed in her game, she has power,” Inouye-Perez said. “The fact that she can also pitch just makes her an all-around valuable player, very similar to a lot of the players that we’ve had in our program, like Ally Carda and Megan Langenfeld.”

As a freshman at Merced, Nickles was a highly touted prospect. She received offers from Pac-12 softball rivals Oregon State and Washington, as well as Oklahoma, before choosing to come to Westwood.

“UCLA was actually the last school that I visited and I instantly fell in love with it,” Nickles said. “They were so welcoming to me, and when they told me they were willing to offer me a spot I was so excited and I just committed right away.”

Although her high school and national team stats speak to her impressive skill and versatility, Nickles will face competition when vying for a spot in the Bruins lineup. Bennett and Sataraka are the only members of the 2016 starting lineup to graduate and UCLA has a healthy pitching staff headed into the upcoming season.

The group of hurlers features returning juniors Selina Ta’amilo and Johanna Grauer, redshirt senior Paige McDuffee and redshirt freshman Rachel Garcia, who missed the 2016 season because of a knee injury. Inouye-Perez will have options, but Nickles is in her plans.

“My goal is for her to be an impact player as a freshman,” Inouye-Perez said.

While Inouye-Perez indicated that Nickles will make her way into an unusually deep UCLA pitching rotation, Nickles can also provide the Bruins with a solid presence around the infield if she’s not in the circle. She performed well at shortstop both at Merced and on the Elite Team.

“I just want to play the position that they feel would help us win ball games, and any position that they put me at would be the one I strive to be the best at,” Nickles said.

With her UCLA career still on the horizon, Nickles already has the support of her future Bruin teammate and fellow Madilyn – or in this case, Madeline.

“(Nickles) is one of those people that leads by example and is inspiring no matter how young she is,” Jelenicki said. “To watch her go out and play the way she does and be a spark, she’s just one of those players that I know could go anywhere at any position and would give 100 percent effort.”

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Sports Reporter

Sanders is a reporter on the baseball beat. He joined the Sports section in winter 2016 and previously covered softball and men's soccer.

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