Athlete of the week: Erin Nicholas ’21

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BENJY RENTON

Erin Nicholas '21 competes against Amherst last season.

By Niamh Carty

Senior field hockey player Erin Nicholas ’21 has a decorated athletic career at Middlebury. A two-time National Player of the Year and two-time All-American, Nicholas was a key player for the team’s three-straight NESCAC Championships and three-straight NCAA Division III National Championships. She was named the 2017 Rookie of the Year and the 2019 NCAA Field Hockey Championship Most Valuable Player. 

Despite her successes, Nicholas did not always have her heart set on playing field hockey in college. In fact, she almost tried out for soccer instead of field hockey as a high school freshman. With some convincing from her sister, though, Nicholas decided the day before soccer try-outs to pursue field hockey instead. 

Even so, she did not seek to play the sport in college until her junior year of high school. Although she had previously been looking at colleges for lacrosse, Nicholas ended up committing to Middlebury to play field hockey. Shortly after, she reached out to the lacrosse coach and received approval to join both teams. Nicholas has also seen success on the lacrosse field as a First Team All-American selection in 2019. 

The balance between competitive athletics and rigorous academics, coupled with the opportunity to play both sports, made Middlebury stand out for Nicholas. 

“I had always heard about [Middlebury’s] reputation for having people who are genuine and down to earth, and I wanted to surround myself with that type of person for my four years of college,” Nicholas said. “And being able to compete for a championship each year is something that’s very attractive as an athlete.”

Grappling with the effects of Covid-19

Unfortunately, with the cancellation of NESCAC fall sports competition, Nicholas and the field hockey team will not make a bid for a fourth-straight ring. Despite the lack of outside competition, Middlebury Athletics is striving to maintain the same energy as previous years. The field hockey team is practicing four to five times a week in smaller groups, and Nicholas stressed their continued devotion to playing the game they love. 

“Practice intensity should stay the way it has been in order to grow and get the most out of our season,” Nicholas said. “We are staying positive and seeing this as an opportunity to improve for next year and the next few seasons for the underclassmen.”

Without the need to scout other teams and play their formations, this season offers a unique opportunity to concentrate on team-specific goals and improvement. “We definitely have a ‘be where your feet are’ mindset,’” Nicholas said. “We are living in the present moment, focusing on what’s surrounding us and where we currently are, and allowing that to build up to our success.”

Because some members of the team are not on campus, staying unified is an extra challenge this year. However, Nicholas explained that the team’s mindset has set the tone for the field hockey team’s approach to the season. 

“It’s a bummer to not have games and the preseason we would typically have, but it’s been really cool to see everyone on campus making the most of having to be outdoors,” Nicholas said. “It’s been fun to be forced to be creative with the ways we bond and interact as a team. This time definitely has a lot of challenges but it also has a lot of silver linings that we’re trying to make the most of.”

Katie George ’23, fellow field hockey member, spoke about Nicholas’s leadership and importance to the team.

“Erin is one of those players that impacts every aspect of the game on and off the field. Once she graduates, the team will definitely be changed, but her drive, passion and skill are passed onto every player when we come together,” George said. “Her leadership and attitude will leave a lasting mark on MCFH and will without a doubt help the program continue to grow.”

Off the field, Nicholas is a member of the Pre-Health Society, the PR manager of the club Love Your Melon, and attends Impact Middlebury, an organization that pairs students with pediatric cancer patients to help support them through their treatment process. She is also a member of the Athletic Policy Committee and the SGA Athletic Affairs Committee.

Nicholas is a Molecular Biology and Biochemistry major and a Psychology minor. Although she plans to attend medical school in the future and is considering a career as an orthopedic surgeon, she isn’t counting out coaching either. She said she cannot imagine sports not playing a role in her life. “I’ve grown up always playing a sport so I couldn’t imagine a year without it.” 

Nicholas has a busy schedule; life as a two-sport student athlete and a pre-med student isn’t simple, but she never fails to find the positives amidst all the chaos. 

“It’s a huge time commitment, and I definitely have to make a lot of sacrifices, but it’s worth it because of the people I get to surround myself with every day,” Nicholas said. “I love the sports, but the people are what make it so special and so incredible. I’m very grateful.”