Nell’s busy summer gets busier
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/08/2022 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Danika Nell has had quite a summer, and the best still lies ahead.
The 16-year-old softball prodigy from Boissevain split the season with the Nebraska Gold and Team Manitoba, but returned home to join her longtime Westman Magic teammates at provincials.
They finished third, earning a berth at nationals in Montreal in mid-August, but before that, the six-foot pitcher is headed to the Canada Summer Games in the Niagara region of Ontario with her Magic teammate Brooklyn Franklin.
“I’m very excited,” Nell said from Winnipeg, where Team Manitoba has been training all week as it prepares to leave Friday morning. “It’s been a long two years leading up to this and I feel like the last two weeks have just been creeping up super fast. There is a lot of buildup and I think it will be great. I don’t really know what to expect but we’re definitely prepared.”
With her busy schedule, Nell didn’t suit up with the U17 Magic all summer, and practised with them twice before they went to provincials. Still, it was a homecoming for her and she enjoyed it.
“It was really nice,” Nell said. “I think I had two practices with them all summer, and even then, coming back, I was laughing with them like I was never gone. I’ve basically grown up with them. I remember when Brooklyn Franklin was like half the size.
“It’s awesome. They’re lifelong friends, a lot of them, and it was nice to get to play with them at provincials and get one last ride with them at nationals.”
Nell began to play in the United States last summer when the Nebraska Gold needed a pitcher. She was a year younger so they were able to pick her up for a national event, and she also joined a team from California. Nell was invited to return to the Gold this summer, and travelled to major tournaments in Kansas and Oklahoma.
She spent the most time with Team Manitoba this summer, however, as they travelled to American tournaments. Unfortunately, she came down with COVID and couldn’t be on the field for one of the bigger events.
“I had to come home, which sucked,” Nell said. “It was quite unlucky, but after that we went to tournaments in Sioux Falls and Tulsa again, and we stayed as a team and were together for a long time so we bonded really well. It was really good.”
Softball Manitoba originally had tryouts for the team two years ago, and a large pool of athletes was gradually whittled down. A selection committee chose the first dozen or so athletes, with the coaching staff making the decision on the final few.
Nell, who was too young to play in the last major event, the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games, said the advantage of the long process is how close the team has become.
“A lot of them have playing together since the U16 Western Canada Games and just making this team — we’ve had it for about two years now, since (the Games) got cancelled initially — and we kept the same team,” Nell said. “We’ve been training through the winter and through the summer a lot.
“Even our smaller group sessions, we mesh really well. We always joke that no matter who you room with in a hotel, you’ll have a good roommate. I think everyone is a good friend at this point.”
In Pool A, Manitoba opens against British Columbia on Sunday at 4:15 local time, and then meets Nova Scotia Monday morning at 10 o’clock and Saskatchewan at 4:15. They finish up against Prince Edward Island on Tuesday at 10, with Wednesday and Thursday set aside for the playoffs.
Nell said with the team’s solid lineup, she’s expecting a lot.
“We have solid really batting so if we can string some hits together, we will be a hard team to beat,” Nell said. “We were in the States and we put up five to 10 runs most games. If our pitching and defence can back that up, it will be tough for other teams to come close.”
Nell said her greatest growth of late has come in how she relates to her teammates. The younger sister of former Brandon Wheat Kings forward Meyer Nell said she doesn’t want to be a passive presence.
“I definitely take responsibility for being a leader on the team, even if I don’t necessarily have to,” Nell said. “I think, especially as a pitcher, that’s my main role. I take it upon myself to do things other people aren’t doing at the time. I will go down in my basement or go to the diamonds in Boissevain and I’ll put the work in when nobody else just so I can help my team and have my best game when the time comes and it matters most.
“Even at the plate, you just have to put the work in.”
Faron Asham has coached Nell two of the past three seasons with the Magic. He said she brings as much off the field as she does on.
“Nelly is a special player,” Asham said. “She’s rightfully been put on a pedestal from the beginning. She has all the tools in the world, a hard worker with a work ethic second to none.”
“Humility is one of her strengths,” he added. “She comes to work and knows she is a good player — everybody else knows she’s a good player — but she’s not going to prance around. She’s going to run the sprints or run the poles and do the warmups and go through all the every-days. She’s part of the team and she certainly leads by example.”
In a recruiting video Nell posted to Twitter in March 2021, she said her fastball has reached speeds of 106 km/h, with her rise ball and drop ball both topping 101 km/h. Her off-speed pitch is 30 km/h slower.
Asham said she is a formidable pitcher.
“When you talk about a mound presence in softball, she’s got it in the circle,” Asham said. “She’s physically imposing, she throws it, waits for the catcher to get it back and is ready to go again. She has a vast array of pitches she can throw at any time in the count, is confident with her fastball.
“Like any young pitcher, her changeup still needs to develop a little bit more but she’s not afraid to throw it, which is a big step in her development. She wants the ball and she’s going to get you out.”
He noted that she is also a very good hitter who has developed more of a power stroke this year.
The young pitcher potentially has a lot riding on the Canada Summer Games. American recruiters are sure to be on hand as the top teenage softball players from across the country take to the field, but Nell certainly isn’t focusing on that side of the equation.
“It’s always good to show people that you put the work in and can do it and come out on top, but I think it’s about playing for something bigger than yourself,” Nell said. “We want to put Manitoba on the map and definitely pave the way for softball players coming up. That’s what is most important.”
She is four weeks from a significant development in that process, because recruiters from NCAA Division 1 schools can begin to contact her on Sept. 1 when she enters Grade 11. Junior college and Division 2 can begin earlier, so she’s already heard from them.
After the Games end, Nell will be headed straight to Montreal to join the Magic at nationals.
That tournament runs from Aug. 17-21 and then Nell, who has already played in three national championships — including a U19 event when she was still just 13 — can finally get some rest.
“I’ll definitely take a bit of a break,” Nell said with a laugh. “It’s been a long summer for sure. But then the recruitment process kicks into high gear when September hits so I might try to go to some college camps and just do some networking.”
» Twitter: @PerryBergson