CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern softball player Nicole Ayala is focused and determined midway into her senior year.
After the first two weekends of conference play, Ayala's goal for this stage of her senior year is for the team to keep getting better, staying humble, and never getting too comfortable.
With the team only having two seniors this year, she has seen her role evolve into being more of a leader.
"I definitely see myself as a leader now," Ayala said. "With us having a lot of younger girls on the team I've had to help them get over failures, cope with it, and use it to become more positive. I just want everyone to have fun and try to get past the nerves."
Ayala originally wasn't thinking about CSU when she started looking at colleges. She originally enrolled and spent her freshman season at Southeastern Louisiana where she split time in a starter and relief role with the Lions. Her first collegiate start resulted in her first career win, a 10-4 victory over Alcorn State. After her freshman year and following coaching changes, Ayala looked for a fresh start and CSU came onto her radar.
"I wanted to win," she admitted. "I had read some of the history of the CSU softball team and how they won in 2014 and decided to come play for a more competitive team."
In fact, Ayala never even came on an official visit. She just believed in the success Coach Winkler was having and committed to it.
After coming to CSU, Ayala's relationship with the team and coaches began to grow. She is very fond of the program Winkler has created and his approach to the game.
"I've gotten to be around Coach Winkler for a while now, and he is very laid back and easy to talk to," Ayala laughed. "Even when he gets frustrated, he continues to stay helpful and guide us in the right direction."
The Bucs have started off the season strong and Ayala has been key to their early success. As one of the two seniors on the team and the only one in the circle, Ayala has seen her role adjusted with the rest of the pitching staff. She's worked hard over the last few years and is happy to help everyone mentally and physically prepare for the upcoming game. She usually appears a pitcher, but recently has also been able to show off her abilities on the base paths serving as a runner several times this season, scoring her first collegiate run on March 17 in CSU's 5-2 win over Winthrop.
"I hope I can base run some more," she said. "It was really fun! Anything I can do to help our team, I want to do it."
Softball has always been a passion of hers growing up and it runs in the family. Her older sister, Natalie, was a collegiate softball player at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. Ayala has a very close family structure, so her sister returned home and became a paralegal after completing her softball career.
One of nine California natives on the team, Ayala has always planned on returning to the West Coast following graduation. Ayala is majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in sociology. She plans to head back home to California and work towards becoming a homicide detective.
Until then, she and the Bucs are looking forward to what conference play has to bring. They are 18-17 heading into the third week of conference play with the goal of making it back to the Big South Championships. Ayala and team have the ability to have success in this part of the season, and she is ready to stay humble and continue to get better.