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Shaler's Nichols hopes to springboard from strong season at Penn State Behrend

| Sunday, June 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Shaler graduate AJ Nichols led the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference with 34 RBIs as a sophomore.
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Shaler graduate AJ Nichols led the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference with 34 RBIs as a sophomore.

AJ Nichols already is excited for her junior season with Penn State Behrend. While the Shaler graduate will have nine long months to wait, it hardly will damper her enthusiasm.

With a lifting plan in place, Nichols is ready to build on an outstanding sophomore campaign.

“I have two years under my belt,” Nichols said. “I think I have it down. I'm excited to pursue it more.”

Building on some things will require such drive. Nichols led the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference with 34 RBIs and was second in the league with a .411 batting average in 41 games.

She also finished with a 2.29 ERA and was 11-5 in the circle for the Lions, who advanced to the Division III NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

“She worked on pitch selection this year and didn't try to do too much with the ball,” Penn State Behrend coach Ashley Gruber said. “She took what each pitcher gave her.”

Making progressions as a player came down to accountability. After not having a workout plan through high school, Nichols had a blueprint laid out by Penn State Behrend's coaching staff.

Nichols followed through, with great results.

“I didn't really do it a whole lot,” said Nichols about lifting before high school. “It was very lax in high school, we were expected to do it but weren't given a workout plan along those lines. Being told what to do helps me a lot.”

It's helped everyone in the Lions' program. Penn State Behrend hit .322 as a team and had nine players hit .300 or better.

“We pair them up with a buddy, especially in-season,” Gruber said. We have them hold each other accountable. I think she stepped into a leadership role for the team. She's always there for lifting, doing soft toss and putting that extra work in.”

The Lions finished the season 27-14 and won the AMCC with a 16-2 record. Behrend's season ended with a 1-2 record in the NCAA playoffs.

That's one stat Nichols will be focused on changing as she trains this summer. She knows when the school year starts again, people who don't prepare will stand out.

“I live with softball players,” Nichols said. “You can tell when someone is not doing it. When I was a freshman, I was doing anything I could to get myself onto the field to play. I pushed as hard as I could to get myself out there. This year, it was to push myself to keep my position.”

Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.

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