Merced High (Merced, Calif.) senior Madilyn ‘Bubba’ Nickles was today named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year. The 5-foot-8 right-handed pitcher and shortstop compiled a 20-5 record in the circle along with a 0.63 ERA this past season, leading the Bears (22-7) to the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Division I Tournament in the knockout bracket. Nickles struck out 308 batters in 167.1 innings pitched. At the plate, Nickles batted .552 with 20 doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBI to finish with a 1.126 slugging percentage and zero strikeouts in 104 plate appearances.
We sat down with Nickles, 18, to better understand how she outshined 365,000 high school softball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: First things first, why ‘Bubba’?
A: My dad gave me that nickname to me when I was little. His side of the family is from Tennessee and they’re all about the Southern accent and anything from The South. He thought it would be different than anything else.
Q: We’ve heard your two of your least favorite things are skipping a nap & skipping a workout. Don’t those goals sometimes conflict?
A: Yeah, kind of. Those are the only two things that I do with my free time, though, so I pretty much get them both done.
Q: Your USA Softball bio says that aside from your cellphone and lip balm, ‘brown napkins’ are one of three things you won’t leave the house without. Um, what?
A: That’s funny. My mom and I take them everywhere. It’s always so hot out here and our faces always get kind of greasy. They’re also good for cleaning up messes. They’re multipurpose.
Q: You have four dogs at home and a pet bird. What’s up with the bird?
A: That’s Sunnyside. A redneck cockatoo. He’s older than I am—like 20 years old. He’s bright yellow and my dad got him from the pet store right around the time he first met my mom. What’s funny is he loves my mom and he doesn’t even like my dad.
Q: Your grandfather, Joe Kusunoki, is from Guam and your mom was born there. Do you plan to visit someday?
A: I really want to go. We were supposed to go this summer, but then I made the USA Softball Elite Team. I have a lot of close family there. They visit and we Skype all the time. Someday I’ll go.
Q: We read somewhere that you trained for last summer’s national team by standing on your shoulders?
A: I think that reporter must have misheard me. That doesn’t sound familiar. I spent a lot of time with my strength and conditioning coach Les Bonsu. Working out with the football players helps, too. They push me to push myself.
Q: You don’t shrink from or get tight during the biggest moments during games. Why do you think that is?
A: This is kind of personal. I think it’s because I’ve got social anxiety issues. In the past, I had trouble being in large crowds. I would have little attacks and trouble breathing. I went to a therapist and they taught me some techniques for staying relaxed and calm, and that has helped me so much in softball too. In those game situations, I use my technics and I realize I’m going to be OK, and I stay calm.
Q: You became a world champion in 2015 and National Player of the Year in 2016. What’s in store for Bubba Nickles in 2017?
A: I don’t expect anything more than what I’m capable of. I never thought I’d make the national team or win Gatorade National Player of the Year. I just trust my abilities and everyone I’m playing with. I just have fun and play the game.