By Mike Beas
The way Nicole Mathews viewed it, she would be a staple of all things Tri-West softball from the base paths on in.
Once in high school, however, Mathews, an infielder through middle school, discovered she would be groomed as the Bruins’ next centerfielder.
Like all position switches, time was needed for Mathews to locate a comfort zone, particularly in light of the 2020 season being wiped out by a global pandemic.
But Tri-West coach Mike Miller was trusting his softball instincts on this one.
“What I saw was her speed, and the strength of her arm,” said Miller. “I needed a center fielder, and I thought she was the perfect one to step in and take control.
“Nicole has accepted the role and become a leader out there. Our kids work hard. Nicole is a great example of that.”
Through April 11, the Bruins were 4-0, and ranked atop the Class 3A poll having outscored opponents by a total of 50-12.
Mathews, a senior, is the team’s leadoff hitter. She bats from the left side and throws right-handed. Her .562 batting average early included team-best numbers in at-bats (16), hits (9), runs (8) and stolen bases (2).
Mathews also excels academically, carrying a 3.91 grade point average, which ranks her 30th academically in a class of 128 students.
“It’s been fun to watch Nicole develop the last four years physically and mentally,” said Miller. “She’s worked very hard on her skills, and on being more vocal and a leader.
“She’s a multidimensional kid. Very good in the classroom and has been involved in FFA.”
Tri-West has won 11 softball sectionals since the 1991 season and is a two-time 3A state finalist. The 2013 Bruins won it all, while last season’s squad was runner-up to South Bend St. Joseph.
Mathews did a Q&A with ICON:
Q: What position do you play, and is that where you’ve always played?
A: I play centerfield, but when I was a freshman, I came in as an infielder. I had never played outfield before high school, but I love it now. I was nervous at first because I had never had fly balls hit to me in a game situation.
Q: Do you feel cheated at all having lost your freshman season (2020) due to all spring sports being canceled due to COVID-19?
A: I really wish I had my freshman season because my sophomore season, I felt like a freshman. It made me adapt to online learning, but softball was hard because I couldn’t practice with my teammates. We had two weeks of practice, and I think we were out.
Q: What are your plans after graduating from Tri-West High School?
A: I am signed to play at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and will be majoring in nursing. I’ve always liked helping people, especially elders. My mom (Paula) is a nurse, but this decision was all my own.