Three golds and a silver.
That's where rising junior Erin Nicholas stands halfway through her college field hockey and lacrosse career at Middlebury.
Freshman year, Middlebury won the NCAA Division III field hockey championship in the fall, and the lacrosse team was the runner-up. This past year, Middlebury won both NCAA championships, with Nicholas, a 2017 SHS grad, being named First Team All-America in both sports, in addition the Division III National Player of the Year for field hockey.
“It feels amazing,” Nicholas said. “Especially last year after losing in lacrosse it's nice to win the championship this year. I was not really thinking about winning two in a year. I was focusing on one season at a time, so I knew both teams were competitive in our division and had a chance of winning the national championship, but I really didn't focus on lacrosse until after field hockey.”
Nicholas is the lone athlete playing for both the field hockey and lacrosse teams. She was recruited to play field hockey, but knew deep down she wanted to play both sports in college, having also played boys ice hockey in high school. “I knew I wanted to try because I thought I would regret it if I didn't,” she said.
Nicholas approached field hockey coach Katharine DeLorenzo with the prospect - “to ask permission” - and she had 100 percent support.
“She was like, 'Are you kidding? You don't have to ask for permission. It's your experience. You can do what you want,'” Nicholas said. “She was very supportive of me trying to play both.”
It hasn't been easy and Nicholas misses captains practices off-season for each sport, but she's always up to speed for her upcoming season.
“It's not always easy with classes and labs and going from that to practice and work, but at the same time it does help me stay on top of my work and not procrastinate,” Nicholas said. “It's two amazing groups of people, so there's two very different support systems. Everyone has hard days, everyone has other commitments, but your teammates are always there for you and they were a big help just getting through every practice and making it enjoyable.”
Lacrosse coach Kate Livesay fully understands Nicholas' situation. She herself played field hockey and lacrosse - and two years of basketball! - at Middlebury. She graduated in 2003 and coached lacrosse for eight seasons at Trinity before returning to Middlebury four years ago.
“It's impressive to say the least that she is at the peak of both games and really thriving in that environment,” Livesay said. “One thing that comes with it is not worrying about the championships or the accolades. She's out there to play the game, to get better - she's very receptive to feedback - and she's willing to play whatever position the team needs.”
Nicholas was not heavily recruited for lacrosse at Middlebury. Livesay knew about her and knew she'd be coming to have an impact on the field hockey program.
“I didn't imagine she'd be a starter as a freshman for us,” Livesay said. “She was not someone who stood out in the recruiting process, not someone who imposes herself on the game. She shows up when the game matters - that's when she's going to make an impact.”
Watching the field hockey team in the fall and then seeing Nicholas on that first day of lacrosse preseason that first spring, Livesay knew that Nicholas was a “special athlete.”
“She's someone from the first practice she was steady and consistent and the more games she had the more obvious it was we were a better team when she was on the field,” Livesay said. “She has remarkably quick hands and that comes in handy in lacrosse and field hockey. She has a great read of the game and that's something that's hard to assess in the recruiting process. Amazing timing, amazing anticipation. She comes up with big plays in big moments because she is constantly in the flow of the game and what's happening.”
The words Livesay uses to describe Nicholas are incomparable: composure, confidence, consistent, unshakability, respect.
“There is zero ego,” Livesay said. “It's remarkable to see someone that talented not worry about individual accolades and I think that's one of the reasons she's so respected by other coaches and her teammates. She's such a humble person. We feel so fortunate she's able to do so well in both sports. That's why you play Division III athletics, to play at a high level both seasons.”
All of this helps elevate Nicholas' teammates.
“When you have someone like that on your team and the stakes are high, they aren't rattled by it and it sets everyone else at ease,” Livesay said. “That's Erin's biggest attribute for our team. She's not nervous and they should not be either.” She added, “She makes us better before the whistle even blows.”
The 2018 lacrosse season ended with an 11-9 loss in the NCAA finals to Gettysburg. 2019 got off on the wrong foot with an 11-10 overtime loss to Bates. The rest of the way, Middlebury didn't lose another game, ending the 22-1 season with a 14-9 win over Salisbury in the national finals. Nicholas scored one goal in that game.
“Our first game was not our best,” Nicholas noted. “I think it just kind of motivated us. We overlooked them coming in and it woke us up and we realized we had to put in work everyday at practice to have a shot at winning. It was discipline at that point and focus. We turned our season around.”
What very few people saw was that Nicholas played the spring with various injuries from her foot to her ankle to her calf.
“She was in a boot at the end of the season when she wasn't at practice,” Livesay said. “No one would ever know that. She just got it done. It's that mindset. She's just out there to get it done. I've just never seen an athlete with that kind of personal resolve.”
As far as lacrosse goes, Livesay understands that major gains are harder to come by for Nicholas with field hockey taking up half the year, but that's OK. If she brings her personality and skill each day, the improvement will come on the draw and on the offensive end. The IQ and inner drive are what put her on the elite level already.
“If she brings exactly what she brought the last two years we'll be really happy…” Livesay said. “We don't need to see a huge jump. She's already contributing by virtue of being a great athlete and reading situations really well. Seeing her confidence grow on the offensive end will be exciting to watch.”
Nicholas was three-time All-State in field hockey for Scarsdale. In the fall of 2016, her senior year, Scarsdale won its first Section 1 title in the sport since 2000 and helped lead the team to the New York State finals. She was also part of two Section 1 ice hockey championships with her brothers in the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 for the Raiders.
The bar is certainly set high for Nicholas and her teammates in her upperclass years. After all, she's never not played in the national championship game at Middlebury.
“It's easy to say it doesn't put pressure on you, but I'm just trying to focus on one day at a time,” Nicholas said. “Preseason for field hockey is now my main focus and getting in shape and then one practice at a time, one game at a time. I don't want to look too far into the future. I'll prepare the best way I can for the team and go from there.”