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On And Off The Field, Bubba Nickles Finds A Way To Lead

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(Photo courtesy of Athletes Unlimited)

For four years in college, Bubba Nickles exemplified what it means to be a UCLA Bruin on a softball field, finding consistent success and championship moments.

Over the course of 217 collegiate games, she amassed a career .357 batting average to go along with 42 home runs, 42 doubles, 235 hits, 181 RBIs and 154 runs scored. And those numbers came despite an injury-shortened 2021 season, in which she only played in 27 games.

Beginning late last year after her senior season, Nickles remained a Bruin, but this time as a graduate assistant coach. It was an opportunity that, according to Nickles, gave her a chance to lift up her former teammates.

“There’s definitely not a power dynamic or anything,” said Nickles. “It’s definitely more of, ‘what do you need from me to be able to help you be successful?’ It really was just all about how to make them better people and leaders more than just being good athletes.”

It was a very successful 2022 season for the Bruins, as they remained in the top 10 in national rankings throughout the campaign and made it to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, ultimately bowing out in the semifinals. Nickles left the U.S. in late March to play professionally in Japan for the Toyota Red Terriers, but the veteran experience and impact she made on UCLA's team was on display even in her absence.

Nickles, after all, is no stranger to OKC, having won a national championship as a player for the Bruins in 2019. Being able to know that she had a part in the success the team had this past season as a coach, however, was just as memorable of an experience for her.

“Obviously, I’ve always enjoyed playing this sport, but just being able to help all of those women in a role of uplifting them for their abilities and just the character that they all have is so much more fulfilling than if I were to go out and perform at my absolute highest,” said Nickles.

Nickles joined a long list of UCLA softball alumnae who have stayed connected with the program in one way or another, a group affectionately known as the Bruin Bubble. With the storied history of the program, the tradition runs deep.

“It’s a very tight-knit group, I would say,” said Nickles. “There’s a lot of history. They’re very supportive in everything that current players do. And even if they continue in softball or they carry forth with whatever profession they pursue, all of the alumnae are very supportive, so I feel like it’s definitely tied together through them.”

In addition to coaching, Nickles is having plenty of chances to play on the diamond this year as well. After playing in Japan earlier in 2022, she is currently playing with Athletes Unlimited (AU) and is in her second season overall in the league. Through the first nine games of the season, she is batting .394 with 13 hits, 12 runs driven in and three home runs.

Far from focusing on her own success, Nickles said it simply comes down to trusting in your abilities and trusting in your teammates, as well as growing with them. Overall, she has found that her experience as both a coach and player for the Bruins has helped everything come together for her at the professional level.

“I feel like I’m starting to help as much as I can with anything the women here may need,” said Nickles. “I feel like it’s very valuable to have both of those perspectives and experiences and to see how they merge together out here while playing for Athletes Unlimited.”

Her time in Japan earlier this year was not the first time she had played there. In the summer of 2021, she was with Team USA in Tokyo for the Summer Olympics. The quest ended with a silver medal, not the gold medal that the team was hoping for, but it was an experience that, according to Nickles, she was grateful for.

And as she continues her playing career, Nickles wishes to be known for the impact she has on other people, rather than what she does on the field.

“To be truthfully honest, I don’t necessarily want people to remember me for me,” said Nickles. “I really want them to feel as though they had the best versions of themselves come to life whenever I was around. I really want people to see how amazing they are themselves, and that may not mean that I’m remembered for my name or myself specifically, but I truly do want people to always see that they have something amazing to offer to the world.”

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