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How Meade County senior Ashley Nikolao ended up on the recruiting radar for the Louisville softball program was an afterthought, but Nikolao is sure glad the two found each other.
And for the past three years, they’ve been attached at the hip.
After giving Louisville a verbal commitment the summer after her freshman season – she had just turned 15 three months earlier – Nikolao signed with her “dream school” Wednesday afternoon during a ceremony in the Meade County library.
“This has all been pretty exciting and it’s a lot better than Christmas,” said Nikolao, who became the first NCAA Division-I signee in the 19-year history of Meade County’s fast-pitch program.
With the ceremony not being held until toward the end of the school day, Nikolao tried to play it cool and avoid even saying the word “Louisville.”
“I actually didn’t say it a lot, although in my head I did,” she said.
A few seasons ago, longtime Meade County coach Mike Harreld tried to get former Lady Waves standouts Erin and Kristin Benton scouted by Louisville when the twins were juniors. Harreld was disappointed when he was told Louisville had all but locked up its recruiting for the then-junior class and the Cardinals had already turned their attention to freshmen.
“At that point I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this eighth-grader who’s awful good,’” Harreld recalled of his conversation with Louisville coach Sandy Pearsall. “She came out and watched us play (Louisville) Ballard and I think Ashley was 2-for-4 against a very good Ballard team and one of her hits might have been off the fence for a double. After that game, she (Pearsall) asked me to get Ashley to come to their camp, which we did. Then the following year, they said they were going to offer and they wanted to get her to verbal with them.”
While college coaches would inquire about Nikolao after Meade County games or during her tournaments with her Louisville-based travel teams, Nikolao said she never had second thoughts or seriously entertained another school.
“A lot of colleges kind of backed off. They would be interested, but they wouldn’t offer,” Nikolao said. “So it was easy to keep my commitment. It had been my dream school forever. And it still is.”
Nikolao said some of Louisville’s recruiting draws were being within a short drive of her family and friends in Brandenburg as well as being able to walk from place to place on campus.
“I’ve learned Louisville has a great campus and I love how all the buildings are so close,” she said. “And I love the fact that I’ll be really close to home. I’m a big homebody, so I didn’t want to go far away.”
With Meade County, Nikolao has played catcher, third base, shortstop and designated hitter. She said Louisville plans to list her position as utility on the roster.
Nikolao has continued to improve every season.
As a freshman, she was named to the All-Area team. As a sophomore, she swept Area Player of the Year and Area Sophomore of the Year honors and earned spots on the All-Area and All-State teams.
As a junior, Nikolao was the preseason 3rd Region Player of the Year, a State All-Star, first team All-State, once again on the All-Area team and an Academic All-State honorable mention. After the season, the region coaches voted her the Player of the Year.
Harreld said it was hard to find a way to describe Nikolao in a way he hadn’t before in numerous interviews about her.
“She’s just got it all,” Harreld said. “When you go through the years, you’ll have kids who you think could possibly play Division-I but you’re not sure. But when you get one like her, there’s no doubt. You just see the difference between those who think they can throw or they can hit or they can pitch, but with her, she can do it all.”
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or email@example.com.