This article was originally published in ZU News.
Senior infielder Nicki Sprague is having a great season as one of the offensive and defensive leaders on the field for APU’s softball team. She helped lead them to a 19-8 record.
This great season is one of many, with Sprague taking home the PacWest Conference Player of the Year award the last three years in a row, becoming the first player in PacWest history to earn the most prestigious conference award through her first three years.
However, Sprague explained how this year is unique.
“It’s totally different this year,” Sprague said. “I’ve had a lot of fun. The chemistry’s really been there and every win has been a team effort. It’s been a season where everything has fallen into place.
She noted that she didn’t know what this season would bring, especially with a very young team compared to the past few years.
“We’re pretty new, about 50/50 new and returners. We weren’t really sure how the season was going to go, but we’ve battled through so many times when we were behind in the game. We pulled out wins that we weren’t expecting,” Sprague said.
As one of four seniors and one of two captains, Sprague has a huge role on the team. Her teammate, junior first-baseman Kayla Jimenez, noted the leadership that Sprague brings to the plate.
“She’s a great role model,” Jimenez said. “She’s a great teammate to be around if someone’s struggling or needs advice. She’s someone that you can go to and she’ll honestly tell you what you need to work on. She’s always trying to help you.”
Jimenez bats at a similar position in the lineup and has a similar style: They’re both lefty power hitters. She said that Sprague will help her when she’s not hitting well off of a pitcher, giving her advice on how to change her approach. Jimenez also noted that sometimes Sprague doesn’t even need to speak in order to motivate her.
“She’s always been really hard-working. Just seeing how hard she works motivates the rest of the team, especially me personally,” Jimenez said. “She can lead without having to talk to you personally, she’s a great example.”
Sprague sets this example in games like the one against BYU-Hawaii on March 10, where she had six RBIs. Even though that was her season high, she said the highlight of her season was sweeping rival school, Cal Baptist.
“We had a really tough season opener with Cal Baptist. They have a great program every year and we had them for the first conference games of the season. We came out and swept them and that was really memorable for me,” Sprague said.
The only other time APU has swept Cal Baptist during Sprague’s career was at the conference championships last year. She thinks this year’s team has great potential.
“I just want for us to be a team that lives up to the potential we have,” Sprague said. “I think we have an amazing amount of potential. Sometimes that’s a great thing to hear. But at a certain point you have to meet that. So my goal would be for us to meet those expectations and the potential that we have. If we do, great things will happen.”
Sprague really focused on how well her team played. She said that she plans to play each game like it’s her last at APU. Based off her performance this season, she could potentially claim a fourth player of the year award, though she said she never expected to get it.
“I want the team as a whole to have success. If awards come from that, it would be a blessing. I just hope to have a season that I can look back and be proud of, have no regrets, and leave it all on the field,” Sprague said. “It’s humbling. It’s a blessing, and an honor,” Sprague said. “It is nice to get awards. Of course you don’t do it for that reason. But it’s an honor.”
One person who has helped Sprague along the way is senior outfielder Abry Moreno.
“We went through this whole thing together. She’s made me a better player, a better teammate, a better leader. She’s the captain this year as well. She’s an awesome player and an awesome best friend. I’m just so grateful to have had her alongside me these past four years,” Sprague said.
Moreno has certainly been a big part of Sprague’s success, as has head coach Carrie Webber.
Webber had nothing but praise for the way Sprague plays.
“From the moment Nicki got here, she’s been a hard worker,” Webber said. “She’s a very intelligent softball player. Not only is she gifted athletically, but she’s gifted in the knowledge of the game as well. Because of her ability to play at a high level and articulate that to her teammates, it makes her teammates better as well.”
Webber remarked that Sprague often seems to come up in situations with the bases loaded and two outs, and she somehow almost always manages to get a hit to keep the inning going and put runs on the board.
“She’s a great leader. She’s mature and she just elevates the game of everyone around her. That’s the type of player that you want on your roster,” Webber said.
Aside from being a great leader while she’s here, Webber said that Sprague has the chance to leave behind a great legacy for other players to follow.
Yet, Sprague isn’t concerned with her legacy at the moment; she has other plans once the season is over.
“I want to take a really long nap and eat some really good food and sit and be lazy for a couple weeks. I want to live the non-athlete life for a bit and cry after it’s over,” Sprague said. “It’s really hard as a senior to not look at graduation and focus on the season, but I’m trying to do that.”
Sprague plans to be a probation officer after she graduates in May.
“I was recently in that stage where I realized I don’t know what I want to do,” Sprague said. “I kind of just left it up to God and prayed about it. I said ‘Where do you see me going at this point? Just give me anything, any sign.’ Things kind of started falling into place. I realized I know a lot of people in that area. I have a passion for justice and advocacy. So I looked up careers that go with that and a probation officer was one of them.”
In the meantime however, Sprague will be looking to finish out her senior year as a leader and as a team player, helping contribute to the success of the team. The Cougars will begin their next series at Dixie State on March 24.