CHICO — There is a saying in the games of baseball and softball that if you can hit the ball well enough, the coach will often find a spot for you to play in the field.
Pleasant Valley softball’s Nicolena Holen began playing softball at the age of six and around age 10 began playing primarily first base. She excelled at the position at her first all-star game and began to play with her travel ball team All American Mizuno. Roughly five years later, at the start of her high school career, Holen joined the travel ball team the Chico Lady Aces and a starting position at first base was not available.
The Aces had a void to fill in their starting lineup in center field and the coaches began to teach Holen how to play outfield.
On Wednesday in front of a crowd of Holen’s family, friends, teachers, coaches, and teammates from both the Lady Aces and the Vikings, Holen signed her letter of intent to continue her softball career in 2022 at Simpson University in Redding. Simpson has recruited Holen as an outfielder, and she anticipates she will be playing centerfield.
Simpson is in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which states on its website “The experts in the business of small college athletics.”
Holen said she likes the size and compactness of the school, which is slightly smaller than PV, and the closeness to her family in Chico. She also said she likes the location of Simpson in the city of Redding.
“I really like Chico and I think of Redding a lot like Chico. It’s like a home away from home,” Holen said.
Holen knew her freshman year in high school that she wanted to attempt to follow her love of the game of softball and play at the next level.
During PV’s shortened season in 2020 when PV played just 10 games, Holen took it upon herself to continue improving. With school being virtual and her travel ball teams not practicing she would hit off her tee into a net at her home nearly every day, focusing on the inside, middle and outside corners. She also used the free time to research different drills she found on YouTube and other places online to ready herself for the next level.
Lady Aces coach Justin Eckenrod said Holen has speed, a strong arm and is very aggressive as a player in all aspects of the game of softball.
“We talked to about it and she loved the idea. She’s like ‘If I’m playing I’ll play anywhere.’ She’s that kind of girl,” Eckenrod said. “We had a void out there, she filled it and excelled at it and it just kind of grew from there. Bats always spoke, speed’s always spoke on the bases and so it was about let’s find a way to keep her in the lineup.”
Holen talked about her switch to the outfield and how she loves to be able to show off her speed, run down balls and dive for close plays. As a former shortstop and first baseman, she is still able to be involved in a lot of plays and helps captain the outfield — much like a first baseman or shortstop would do in the infield.
Vikings’ coach Tony Talerico praised Holen’s attitude and work ethic at all times on the diamond, whether that be at a long two-hour practice or a doubleheader in extensive heat.
“She definitely is a leader out there and communicates and understands the situation and makes sure she does that,” Talerico said. “She’s played first base, shortstop and now centerfield so she’s carried that wherever she’s gone and been able to put kids in the right situation and right place.”
In Holen’s senior season, which begins in spring 2021, she hopes to continue to improve her arm strength in the outfield and get as many repetitions as possible. Talerico said he sees her playing different positions as she has in years past but knows his job is now to get her ready to seize the opportunity at the next level.