Nikkel?s worth

When Taylor Nikkel stroked the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Hillsboro softball team a 1-0 win for the regional championship last week, the biggest cheer likely came from someone unseen to others.

Nikkel says her father, Vince, was her biggest fan in life. She sees no reason why that has changed since his sudden passing a little more than four months ago.

?Just knowing that he?s up there watching me and would be so proud of me now...,? she said, letting the end of her sentence fade. ?I?m just going to try to do everything I can to make him proud.?

And Nikkel has done that, on and off the softball field. A two-year all-league performer the past two seasons, Nikkel is a team co-captain with fellow senior Allie Faul. She embraces her leadership role on a talented team that will play this weekend in the state tournament for the third year in a row.

?I think a lot of (teammates) look up to me, not only because I?m the oldest, but just because of my accomplishments and what I?ve gone through already,? she said.

Nikkel?s leadership extends beyond the softball field. She has served the past year as president of the FFA chapter, and has been a ?Big? with the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters program all through high school.

Nikkel knows people are watching as she responds to her opportunities and setbacks. Even the death of a parent.

?Giving up is the easiest option, but you have to think not only about yourself, but about your future and everyone around you,? she said. ?When people are looking up to you?what kind of message does giving up send? Keep pursing your hopes and dreams no matter what comes your way.?

Life with softball

Softball has been Nikkel?s most public showcase. She started playing T-ball and coach pitch in the local recreation program. In her early teens she joined the Hot Rods, a local traveling team that included a large group of girls one year younger who now form the core of the current Trojan squad.

When that team disbanded, it was her father who convinced Nikkel to try out for the Mustangs in Wichita, a mostly year-round, 18-and-under team that travels to tournaments from the Midwest to the West Coast.

?I said I?d never be good enough to play there,? Nikkel recalled. ?But he said, ?Taylor, I think you need to try it.??

She will complete her final season with the Mustangs this summer. He father?s advice and encouragement have been a constant support for her.

?Even when I was little through Hot Rods, he would always help me and know what to say,? Nikkel said. ?I guess that?s something I lack now, but it?s something he instilled in me.

?I knew what he would say at certain times. So, when I?m on the field and I?m struggling with the bat or with fielding, I know exactly what he would tell me. I have those words in my mind to tell me what to do.

?For the most part, he?s always been there. He was always there to support me and give me the outlook I needed to finish.?

Senior season

Even so, the transition without her father?s physical presence has been a challenge in this her final high school season.

?The first game was very difficult,? Nikkel said. ?I remember crying on the bus the whole way (to Pratt), knowing that he?s not going to be there. I struggled that game, and knew I was probably going to.

?I just have to remember that he?s up there watching me,? she added. ?That?s kind of been my drive?to know that he still wants me to succeed, that he still wants the best for me, and that he would still be on the sidelines cheering for me no matter what.?

Her father would have had a lot to cheer about this season, as the Trojans finished the regular season with a 16-4 record. After being on the first Trojan team to make it to state during her sophomore season, then finishing fourth at state a year ago, Nikkel is looking forward to the team?s third?and her final?trip to Manhattan his weekend.

?This is my senior year and I?d love to win it all, but if we don?t, as long as everyone else is getting better and we keep progressing, I think that shows a lot,? she said. ?That?s my goal?to keep doing better than we did the year before.?

Nikkel credits her teammates for a lot of the success she and the team have enjoyed the past three years, and for the support they provided during her season of personal loss.

?I couldn?t ask for a better group of girls to play for,? Nikkel said. ?They?ve given me some incredible memories. And the same for FFA?they?re a whole other family as well.?

Looking to the future

Nikkel has signed a letter of intent to play softball at Cloud County Community College next year. If all goes well, she plans to transfer to a four-year university, likely Kansas State, to continue her pursuit of a degree in veterinary medicine and perhaps to play more softball.

She credits her father with contributing to her lifelong love of animals and her career aspiration to be a large-animal veterinarian.

?I was influenced on the farm, working with my dad with cattle and horses,? she said. ?It just developed. I love animals of all kinds and am a sucker for picking them up and taking strays home.?

As she anticipates her future, Nikkel recalls her father?s favorite saying: ?Wisdom is knowing what path to take; integrity is taking it.?

?That?s something that?s in my mind right now,? she said. ?I know what path to take in my life, not necessarily just softball.

?Just because something bad happens to you, you can?t give up,? she added. ?You?ve got to keep pushing on and just grow from it.

?Keep your faith especially. That?s one thing that?s really important.?

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