Leaving home plate

Senior commits to play softball at University of South Dakota


Sarosh Ismail

Senior Riley Nicholson poses outside the softball field with her glove. Nicholson has been playing softball for the last 8 years and has committed to play in college too.

For senior Rylee Nicholson, softball runs in the family.

She started playing softball after her father and grandfather encouraged her; since then, she has played the sport for the last eight years. Nicholson has committed to continue playing softball at the University of South Dakota next year.

“[My grandpa] continued playing until he was 75, and he got inducted into the hall of fame for slow pitch softball,” Nicholson said. “He inspired me the most because he never gave up and continued playing for a long time.”

Softball coach Jason Gwyn has been coaching Nicholson since her sophomore year, when she moved to Hebron from Prestonwood Christian Academy. Gwyn said Nicholson was shy when he first started coaching her, but after she gained confidence she became a leader to her teammates.

“She’s also an extraordinary leader vocally; she’s very positive,” Gwyn said. “It’s kind of crazy, she has some of these kids believing that they could do things that I don’t think they ever thought they could do, which is really invaluable.”

With COVID-19, many universities have rolled back athletic scholarships and less spots have been available on teams. The difficulties COVID-19 brought to the commitment process was something Nicholson was able to avoid. 

“I committed in 2019, right before COVID-19 hit,” Nicholson said. “COVID-19 stopped a lot of recruiting processes for people, and it stopped opportunities from progressing.”

Junior Ashley Vaccaro has been playing softball with Nicholson for the past three years. Vaccaro said Nicholson has helped her fellow teammates become better and smarter players.

“On the field, she’s just a very strong player,” Vaccaro said. “She has a really good bat, and on the field she performs [well] even if she’s not playing where she usually does. She has also left the team so much closer together and more connected, and that’s going to carry on throughout the rest of the high school years.”

When searching for a school, Nicholson was interested in Texas A&M, University of Arkansas, Florida Atlantic University and the University of South Dakota. Having decided to play for South Dakota, Nicholson’s goal for next year is being in the starting lineup as a freshman. Nicholson plans to major in business administration or kinesiology to become a personal trainer. 

“To try to pinpoint [where I see her in the future] would be underselling her,” Gwyn said. “Not just in softball, but in life she’s going somewhere, and she’s going to do big things. She’s somebody that long-term Hebron’s going to be very proud of.”