North Texas Daily

‘I’m supposed to be here’: Key life decisions lead Nicholson to Denton

‘I’m supposed to be here’: Key life decisions lead Nicholson to Denton

‘I’m supposed to be here’: Key life decisions lead Nicholson to Denton
March 01
01:00 2023

A series of decisions led sophomore utility Rylee Nicholson to Denton. 

After starting her career at South Dakota University, the Frisco, Texas native returned home to play for North Texas. Entering the transfer portal following the 2022 season, the Mean Green stood out as a school she “couldn’t not choose.”

“[North Texas’] softball program was the biggest part for me,” Nicholson said. “The culture we have here is unlike any other team I visited.”

Her decision to leave South Dakota was not the first time Nicholson left one school for another. In high school, she went from private school to Hebron High School. Nicholson’s previous school, Prestonwood Christian Academy, did not have a sufficient number of players to field a softball team. 

“It was definitely an adjustment, but I feel like I grew so much as a person,” Nicholson said. “[Public school] is a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, and I think my character grew a lot, too. I just got more comfortable being around different cultures and environments.”

University Intercollegiate League rules stipulate a transferred player is not allowed to play in varsity competition until a year of enrollment at their new institution. Because of this, Nicholson played junior varsity at Hebron during her sophomore year. Her junior season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit Zach Del Bello

Nicholson played a single full varsity season at Hebron. Making the most of her brief playing career in high school, Nicholson played her way to earning third team all-area honors from the Dallas Morning News and was listed on the 2021 ExtraElite100 by Extra Inning Softball. 

Her performance garnered an offer from South Dakota, which she accepted to start her collegiate career. With the Coyotes, Nicholson was an instant starter on the team as a freshman. She made 44 starts in 2022 — all in left field. In her 49 fielding opportunities, she committed zero errors. 

“I have a lot of confidence in the outfield with my glove,” Nicholson said. “I’ve always thought that the outfield was one of my favorite parts of the game. I just have a lot of fun out there and I feel like since I have a lot of fun, I play stress free.”

While she found success on the field at South Dakota, the 760 mile distance from her native Frisco began taking a toll on Nicholson. Wanting to be closer to home and to play for something “bigger and better,” Nicholson entered her name into the NCAA transfer portal. 

“When I went [to South Dakota] I was homesick every single weekend,” Nicholson said. “It was freezing cold too, so that also played a part in it.”

Taking notice was her high school head coach at Hebron, now-North Texas assistant coach Jason Gwyn. After making initial contact with Nicholson, Gwyn asked head coach Rodney DeLong to pursue the sophomore transfer. 

“Because I had a personal relationship with [Nicholson], I didn’t want to be the one who necessarily pursued her — I didn’t think that was fair,” Gwyn said. “She went on four visits, with us being one of them, before she made a decision, so she made me sweat it out a bit — although honestly, I had a feeling she was coming here.”

Gwyn said Nicholson would give him “no credit” in her decision to join the Mean Green. However, Nicholson said while she does not attribute Gwyn as the primary reason for her transfer, she still sees him as a key piece. 

“Obviously he was my high school coach so that kind of played a role in it,” Nicholson said. “But I think the decision was a little bit more than just because he was here I came, but he definitely played a role in it.”

After sharing a personal relationship with Nicholson and her family for years, Gwyn is now reunited with one of the standout athletes from his high school coaching career.

“She’s an incredible human being — what you see on the softball field is only a small part of what she does,” Gwyn said. “That’s probably the biggest part. I think if you ask her teammates, they would tell you the human side of her is probably the better part.”

Nicholson has gelled with her Mean Green teammates, including junior second baseman Mikayla Smith. Her and Smith are travel roommates, which has placed the two around each other for a significant amount of time this season. 

“She’s become one of my best friends on the team,” Smith said. “She’s fun to be around, it’s never a dull moment with her and once she became my best friend, it’s been a little bit easier to just hang out and have fun with her.”

On Feb. 17, Nicholson had the chance to play the Coyotes in Celina. In a full-circle moment for the sophomore, she hit her first home run of the season against her former team. 

“I feel like that’s a movie thing — hitting a home run against your old team, everyone dreams of it,” Nicholson said. “It definitely solidified the feeling that I’m supposed to be here.”

Featured Image Rylee Nicholson throws a softball from outfield during a game on Feb. 25, 2023. Matt Iaia

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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