In the beginning, every athlete feels like they can play forever.
Unfortunately for all that have donned a uniform, the only undefeated competitor is time.
Former Independence all-stater Nicole Kester is approaching the end of the line in regards to her softball career, but what a legacy the current WVU Tech standout has left in her wake.
“It is tough and anytime I think about it I start getting really sad, so I am really just trying to enjoy it every step of the way,” Kester said. “At the beginning of the year we all pick a word for our mental toughness. My word this year was appreciate. Appreciate it while I have it.”
It could easily be said that Kester has always played every game like it was her last. The effort, heart and hustle she put forth on the diamond has set a high standard for her teammates to follow at every level.
In her senior season in Coal City, Kester was the motor that drove the Patriot machine. Hitting .509 over a challenging schedule, Kester had four homers, eight triples, 15 RBI and 28 steals to easily earn first team all-state honors.
This year as a senior at WVU Tech, Kester was again the catalyst for the Golden Bears hitting a team-high .358 with a .415 on base percentage and a .560 slugging percentage.
The speedy shortstop led Tech in hits (48), runs scored (32) and stolen bases (15), while striking out a mere eight times in 134 appearances.
While those that know her have always believed she would be successful at the collegiate level, success took time.
“It was just a lot different coming to college. I got to play some, but it was so different being with different girls and on a different level,” Kester explained. “Then (my freshman) season ended up getting cut short because of Covid. Right when we were really starting to get into it, the season ended. I guess it wasn’t really a terrible start, but I wasn’t really sure where I stood. Thankfully it got better as it went.”
As a sophomore, Kester played 40 games and helped lead the Golden Bears to the semifinal round of the River States Conference Tournament.
Kester really started to find her groove in year three when she hit .301 with 37 hits and 31 runs scored. However, the season did not end as expected for Tech last year.
“Last year was a little rough. We had a really good team, but we just fell apart,” Kester said. “I thought we could win it all last year, but then stuff started happening and we didn’t even make it to the tournament.”
At the start of the season this year, hopes were again high for a return to the RSC tournament and a run at the RSC championship.
Battling through some rough patches, the Golden Bears punched their ticket to this years postseason tournament with a doubleheader sweep of Carlow University Friday at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
“It was awesome because we started out so strong and I felt like this was going to be the year. Then we had some rough games and I was thinking we have to make sure that we even make it to the tournament,” Kester said. “Making the tournament Friday was a huge win and I am super excited.”
Along with her commitment to appreciate the time that she has this year, Kester also wanted to enjoy the ride along the way.
“With this being my last year, I just wanted to have fun. I didn’t want to add any pressure,” Kester said. “I just wanted to go out there and play and enjoy it while I could. That is what I have tried to do all year.”
Playing in the conference tournament will be part of busy May for Kester. A little more busy than she was aware of a few months back.
Kester will graduate this month with a degree in biology and will move on to the School of Physical Therapy at Marshall University.
“I still have three more years of school, but I am really excited about it. Classes start May 15 at Marshall, so I only get maybe a week off. I am a little stressed out by it all, but I am just trying to enjoy softball while I have it,” Kester said. “When I applied I was expecting classes would start maybe in June or July. The they sent it out to me and it was May. I was like, Oh! I have to get myself together now.”
Along with the stress of starting school in two weeks, there is the dilemma of what to do if WVU Tech wins the RSC Tournament championship and advances to the NAIA National Championship.
Kester did not hesitate on that question.
“If we make it, there is no way I am going to miss it. It might be rough, but I definitely want to play,” Kester said, smiling. “They said it would be tough, but they would work with me. If that is what I wanted to do, they would work with me to make it work.”
While it appears the postseason run this year will conclude Kester’s college career, there is still a glimmer of hope that she could play one more year.
“I do have a Covid year, but I don’t think they will let me play at Marshall. They highly recommend that you have no jobs or anything. If Tech had more classes for me to take, I would probably stay and take my Covid year,” Kester explained. “There is just really nothing else for me to do here. If they tell me I can play and offer me to play at Marshall, I don’t think I could turn it down.” It is very hard to give up that extra year, but I guess you have to give it up eventually.”
Even though she is unclear when her days will truly come to an end, the lessons learned on the diamond will be something Kester keeps with her the rest of her life.
“I always questioned if I was good enough to play in college just because it was so different, but I have always worked hard and tried to be the best that I could,” Kester said. “Being at a higher level with girls that were already at that level motivated me to push harder. I have enjoyed it. I think that is one of the things that I love most about softball, it pushes me to be better. I am really glad that I got the opportunity to play.”
WVU Tech opens RSC Tournament play Thursday at Little Creek Park in South Charleston against Midway University at 3 p.m. The tournament is a double-elimination format.