Pitcher or coach, Myers a winner

Published September 10, 2006

When John Stratton needed a pitcher for his professional women's fastpitch Connecticut Brakettes team this summer, he wasted no time calling Nikki Myers St. Petersburg/Florida Atlantic.

Myers thought her softball playing days were over until her former assistant coach from FAU called.

"When coach called and said he needed a pitcher, I said I'd do him a favor and play," said Myers. "I hadn't competed for a while and really thought I was done. I'm too competitive, though, not to be ready to play and coaching the last two years at the Division I level has kept me around the game all the time."

The Brakettes finished among the top four teams in the seven-team league and placed second in last month's National Professional Fastpitch Championship. On the season, Myers was 8-4 with 88 strikeouts in 91 innings and recorded the team's second-best ERA at 2.08.

While at FAU from 1998-2002, Myers was a three-time Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year and named twice to the All-American second team. She's fourth in NCAA history in strikeouts with 1,376.

"During my senior year at FAU, I played amateur softball for Connecticut and then played a year professionally with the Akron Racers," said Myers, 26. "I played for the Brakettes in 2003 and then not at all for two years."

After graduation, Myers sent out her resume while pursuing an opportunity to attend veterinary school. When Michigan State called, Myers answered and accepted the assistant coach position in 2004.

No longer interested in chasing a veterinary degree, Myers is keen on coaching.

"At first, the transition from player to coach was tough, because I'm so competitive," said Myers. "I just didn't see why all the players weren't just like me and of the same mindset. But, I tried not to show my frustration and began treating everyone individually and it's worked out great. I work mostly with pitching and have done a little recruiting."

Myers, who was gifted with speed as a pitcher, looks for players who have decent speed, but concentrates on finding a pitcher who can move the ball around the plate and one who is mentally eager. She looks for a player who has an aura or attitude about her, she said, and one that her teammates want to have the ball.

Heading into her third season at Michigan State, Myers is looking forward to a good season with the young team. While the Spartans have achieved Big Ten titles in the past and advanced to regional play, Myers sees this year's team finding its way down the same road.

"The difference between last year's team and the first year I was here is dramatic," said Myers. "We have some new players in leadership positions this year, and I think the team will continue to play better and better."

From a team that finished 25-28-1 in 2004 to one that posted a 34-25 record last year, Myers sees the Spartans being winners again.

BASEBALL: Gibbs 2000 graduate Boof Bonser collected his fourth major league baseball win for the Minnesota Twins in a 2-1 effort last week over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In the 24-year-old's first appearance in his hometown, the right-hander allowed five hits and had six strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

VOLLEYBALL: Ashley Martin (Seminole) was named Sunshine State Conference Offensive Player of the Week after her performance in Florida Southern's first weekend of action. The sophomore averaged 4.5 kills per game and hit .362 for the Moccasins.

Martin was named to the All-Tournament Team in the Division II Premier Challenge held in Denver, Colo.

- Florida Southern's outside hitter Bev Stasis (Countryside) was also named to the all-tournament squad. The 2004 AVCA Division II Freshman of the Year leads the team in serving percentage with .917.

- Junior libero Daryl Baby (Clearwater) is averaging 2.91 digs for the No. 6-ranked Moccasins.

- Jessica Bowman (Seminole) recorded eight digs in Florida Southern's loss to the No. 2 seed in the D-II Premier Challenge.

- Junior outside hitter Jennifer King (Largo/North Florida) has seen action in about half of the Moccasins' games.

- Chelsea Lazar (East Lake) was named to the Appalachian Classic All-Tournament Team after recording 36 kills, eight blocks and 10 digs for Marshall. The junior is second on team in kills (75) and blocks (31).

FOOTBALL: Ole Miss wide receiver Dexter McCluster (Largo) was named SEC Freshman of the Week after his performance in a season-opening 28-25 win over Memphis. McCluster posted 268 all-purpose yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run. Redshirt freshman Billy Tapp (St. Petersburg Catholic) is a quarterback for the Rebels.

TENNIS: Christa Grey was among five Seminole High graduates inducted into the school's Sports Hall of Fame last week. After a stellar prep career, Grey was a member of the 2000 NCAA champions Georgia Bulldogs. After her 2001 Georgia graduation, Grey worked as a teaching professional in Knoxville until she was named an assistant coach at NC State in 2003. This season begins the two-time Academic All-American's second as assistant at her alma mater.

News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 445-4119; e-mailed to namorgan@tampabay.rr.com or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Please include phone number.