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Butler grad recognized for strong senior soccer season at W&J

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Nikki Hladik was happy to put her Washington & Jefferson College soccer teammates first.

Setting them up for goals meant more to her than finding the back of the net herself.

That's the mentality a center midfielder needs in order to be successful, and it's one Hladik, a Butler graduate, embraced.

“I think one sign of a good center midfielder is to have everyone else around them play better,” she said.

Hladik played a part in teammate Holly Shipley's earning Presidents' Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors. Shipley, a first-team All-PAC selection all four years at Washington & Jefferson, finished her career with 61 goals, which tied a program record.

“I definitely enjoyed setting up people. It's more about setting people up and getting them the right balls and letting the forwards get the goals,” Hladik said. “We were lucky we had a forward who (tied) the school record for goals; I think that's a compliment to the midfielders, too.”

Coaches around the PAC noticed Hladik, as well. The senior was named to the All-PAC second team.

“It was definitely a culmination of lots of hard work. It's nice to get recognition, even if our team didn't make the playoffs,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised. It's hard being a midfielder because you don't score a lot of goals. You do a lot of work in the midfield that goes unnoticed. It's nice for the coaches in the conference to recognize that.”

Hladik finished with three goals and five assists this year. The three goals matched her career high, and the five assists were the most in her four years.

“To be honest, I would rather have a nice assist and play a beautiful ball to the forward to tap in,” she said. “My mentality is about helping the team win. If I can do something to make it easy for my teammate, I am more than happy with that.”

Hladik finished her career with 10 goals and eight assists.

“She had a terrific senior season. Without a doubt, it was her most productive and quality season since she came to W&J. Not that her other seasons were poor,” Presidents coach Pete Curtis said. “She is very consistent and a quality soccer player. She is very smart and clever on the ball. She showed a lot of good leadership this year; she was always a go-to player in the midfield. Nikki was always ready to accept the ball and took pressure off her teammates who weren't quite as comfortable on the ball.”

The Presidents finished 5-4 in the PAC and 10-8 overall.

“We had high expectations going into the season. We won the conference my freshman year and made playoffs the last two years,” Hladik said. “We had a class of seven starting seniors. We lost three games in overtime. It's hard when that happens, and you don't get to go to playoffs because of one goal in overtime. It was frustrating and depressing to not make the playoffs in my senior year.”

Nevertheless, Hladik, a molecular biology and philosophy dual major, was happy with the progress she made over her career at W&J. She is in the process of applying to medical school.

“I definitely matured as a player over the last four years. I have learned to understand the game a lot better and see things happen faster,” she said. “Our coach always says you have to outthink and play smarter than everyone else. Being able to think and see the game before others helped me to be one step ahead.”

Curtis is sad to see Hladik graduate.

“She's been a terrific young lady to have on the team. She's been a terrific help to the other players on the team. She tutors them sometimes officially and sometimes unofficially,” he said. “Not only will we miss her on the soccer field, but everything she did off the field, as well.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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