Nicole Evans of the University of Illinois is much more than just power
The Glen Elynn, Illinois native garnered first team all-state honors her senior year at Trinity High School after earning second-team recognition the previous two years. During her high school career, she smacked 47 home runs. It was this dominance at the high school plate that led her to Division I softball in college.
After hitting just .232 with four homers her freshman year at Illinois, Evans really came into her own as a sophomore in 2015. She raised her average to .329, and led the team with 19 home runs and 52 RBIs. As hard as it is to believe, she's been even better this past season.
"Nicole is definitely somebody you're excited to see at the plate," Head coach Tyra Perry recently told the DuPage Policy Journal. "She has the ability to change the game with one swing of her bat. She's also a very heady player. She understands manufacturing runs and situational hitting. She's just the total package."
Evans added some nuance to her game, as the junior developed from a power hitter to an all-around hitting threat. Her total home runs dropped down to 12 this year, but she raised her average to .337, increased her RBIs to 53, walked more, struck out less, and raised her on-base percentage a full 25 points to .407.
She did all that while still leading the Illinois team in slugging percentage, and her career total of .637 is the highest in program history. Her 35 career home runs currently rank fourth in team history with another season left to play.
"She is extremely patient, and she looks for a good pitch to hit," Perry said. "At the same time, if a good pitch comes across early in the count, she's not afraid to be aggressive either. She lets the game come to her and plays with her natural instincts. She does a really good job at that."
It wasn't just Evans' skill at the plate that helped Illinois to a 36-23 record, the team's most wins since 2010, and berths in both the conference and NCAA tournaments. Her personality and her attitude set the tone for the entire squad.
"She's such a calm, mature person," Perry said. "Her presence stabilizes all of the other players and puts everyone in a good mood. She's just that kind of person; she's that dynamic. We will definitely depend on her for leadership this year. She provided quite a bit of that last year as well. She's just a great person."
Perry is going to need that leadership moving forward, as the program lost five seniors at the end of this season who all played major roles in the team's success, including second baseman Allie Bauch, who moved on to play in the pros with the Chicago Bandits.
They do have four incoming seniors to help fill the void, but Perry said she will be looking to Evans to add even more to her already dominant game in an effort to lead the team into another successful year.
"Nicole's made tremendous strides as an outfielder," Perry said. "Toward the end of last season, I started seeing her step up and make Sportscenter-caliber plays, especially in the Big 10 tournament and in the postseason. So I'd like to see her continue in that vain of expanding her range as an outfielder and continuing to get comfortable with her reads and make the best play out there. If she continues on that path and picks up where she ended last season, I think we're going to see one of the greatest players in Illinois softball history."
In addition to being named an NFCA first-team Midwest Region all-star and second team All-Big 10, Evans was also one of six finalists for the 2016 University of Illinois Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the year award. She's a great student, a positive influence around campus and the team looks to be in fine shape under her lead in the upcoming season.
"She's just that type of person," Perry said. "She even participated in the hiring committee when we hired our new athletic director. She was the student-athlete on the committee. She leads by example in all fronts. She may be our president one day."