Nicholas sisters find their way to the University of Charleston

Craig and Tammy Nicholas thought they were just taking their freshman daughter Olivia to the University of Charleston (W. Va.).

They thought they were going to watch her on-court prowess during an open gym and visit with Charleston basketball coach Adam Collins.

Abby, Olivia’s older sister, came along for the ride, but that changed quickly.

Abby finished her sophomore year at Youngstown State and was working at the time. She was a standout pitcher at Howland and had a couple of NCAA Division II and III offers, but passed – hoping for a Division I scholarship.

Tammy was telling Collins that all of her daughters were athletes and then said Abby was a softball pitcher.

Collins knew Charleston needed a starting pitcher since its previous one unexpectedly quit, so he brought over Charleston softball coach Raymond Loeser, who then asked Abby to do a quick tryout.

Abby was in summer clothes and wearing flip flops, not ready to pitch.

“I had to go quickly down to Olivia’s room, get in some of her clothes,” she said.

Loeser was impressed by Abby’s tryout and quickly offered her a spot on the team.

Abby was playing in a Warren-area league at the time, but it didn’t compare to her competitive playing days of high school and travel ball.

“Ever since I stopped playing, I’ve dreamed of being able to walk on to a team,” Abby said. “Nobody gets a second chance like this. I thought I have to take this chance.”

It’s a chance Olivia is more than happy her sister took – coming to Charleston and helping her through her freshman year.

“I was the happiest person in the world. She has gotten me through the whole year,” Olivia said. “She has helped me. I was really homesick at the very beginning. She would help me with my school work when I needed it. When I wanted to go shoot, she would come rebound for me.”

Olivia played in 16 games and scored 1.2 points off the bench – not the way she was taught at Howland where she led the area in steals and assists.

“(Howland) coach (John) Diehl always pushed me and urged me to be better,” Olivia said. “He taught me the fundamental things how to play and play as a team. He worked on basketball skills and helped me grow up in my personal life. Even though it was basketball, I got some life lessons out of it too.”

At the same time, she knew playing against better competition was inevitable.

“I was really a great experience,” Olivia said. “I had a lot of fun playing. I didn’t play that much. I was frustrated, but I know if I keep working hard for the year to come I can help the University of Charleston.”

Abby was off to a rocky start for the softball team, with her ERA ballooning to 22.63 after four games.

“I was nervous because I hadn’t been in that position for a while. I had butterflies,” she said.

After spring break, she switched to a reliever role and her ERA dropped to 8.85 by March 30.

It was frustrating for Abby to struggle since she has always excelled at softball.

“The coach said to me you have to take baby steps to be the pitcher you used to be,” she said.

That said, Craig is proud that both girls have dogged determination.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “I’ve told these girls there are girls going to be bigger, faster and stronger, but there better be nobody out there that will outwork you. Good things have happened for them.”

Craig remembers last summer when he saw Olivia playing in an open gym and Abby trying out for softball while perched high atop the school’s Sports and Fitness Center.

“I got tears in my eyes,” Craig said. “How lucky am I to see my daughters playing together? I was pretty stinking proud.”