It must be nice to have an older sibling that can set you on the right path for the rest of your life.
Just ask Nicole Nicholas.
Nicholas’ older sister, Christina, was a fine distance runner for McNair Academic a few years ago, before she headed on to William Paterson University.
When the younger Nicholas was in eighth grade, she had a tough decision to make.
“I was deciding on what school I would go to,” Nicholas said. “I really wanted to go to High Tech, but my sister talked me out of it and told me I should go to the same school as her and that I should run track like her. She’s the reason I went to McNair.”
When the younger Nicholas arrived at McNair, she joined the cross country team, where her sister was already a standout. Christina Nicholas won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship in 2009, overcoming injuries to her hip and feet to do so.
“I was always interested in running, but the whole distance thing was tough for me,” Nicole Nicholas said. “My sister was always been a really big role model for me. She pushed me into running cross country and pushed me to work hard all the time. She regretted not working hard all the time and thought she could be better. So I really pushed myself.”
However, there was another burning desire going on in Nicole’s mind.
“Ever since I was little, I always wanted to play soccer,” Nicholas said. “I would watch soccer games and I really got into the sport.”
So Nicholas, who ran cross country as a freshman at McNair, gave up running in the fall to play on the McNair girls’ soccer team.
“I was the one who always tried to make the defensive plays,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas was a midfielder on the McNair girls’ soccer team for two seasons.
“I think I scored two goals in two years,” Nicholas said. “I had the mindset of being a defensive midfielder. I enjoyed being with the soccer team.”
However, when the 2012 fall season was about to begin, Nicholas had to make a very difficult decision.
“I knew if I ran cross country, it would improve me for the indoor and outdoor seasons,” Nicholas said. “It was pretty tough for me, because I was leaving the team I played with for two seasons. I felt like I was letting them down. That’s the thing that troubled me the most.”
But Nicholas knew it was all for the best.
“I don’t regret making the decision,” Nicholas said. “Running cross country really helped me a lot. It built up my endurance and made me a stronger runner.”
Nicholas made it through the cross country season chasing after her talented teammate Brittany Gibson, who like Nicholas’ sister, won the NJSIAA North 2, Group I sectional gold medal in the fall.
Nicholas finished eighth in the state sectionals in cross country, even though she’s really not a distance runner.
When the indoor track season began in December, Nicholas knew that she was ready to shine.
“Running cross country made me a better runner in the 800 (meter run),” Nicholas said.
“She’s in the best shape she’s ever been,” said veteran McNair Academic head coach Matt Hogan. “She put in a lot of mileage during the summer and that’s paying off.”
Last week, at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships at the New York Armory, Nicholas’ due diligence reaped heavy rewards.
Nicholas won both the 400-meter run and the 800-meter run. She ran the 400 in 59.69, the lone runner to finish the event under one minute and won the 800 in 2:23.96, a good six seconds ahead of the field.
Nicholas was the lone female athlete to win two events at the HCTCA meet.
A few days later, Nicholas won the 400-meter run at the NJSIAA North 2, Group I sectionals in Toms River and finished fourth in the 800.
So not only is Nicholas a two-time county champ, but she’s also a state sectional champ as well.
For her efforts, Nicholas has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Her sister, Christina, was a Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week in November of 2009, so they become the first pair of siblings ever from McNair Academic to earn the honor.
Hogan believes that Nicholas can be entered in any running event from the 200 through the 1,600-meters, not to mention the intermediate hurdles, as well as several field events like the high jump and long jump. That’s incredible diversity.
“Nicole has become somewhat of the leader of the team,” Hogan said. “She took a more active role in being a team leader. She’s usually always pretty quiet. She’s tall and imposing. But this year, she got to know the other girls a little more and that’s helped. She has a good sense of humor as well. She enjoys the sport.”
Added Hogan, “She’s just a very good all-around athlete. She’s a nice kid who works hard and is well deserving of what she’s done this year. It’s a long time coming. The spotlight is a nice fit for her.”
Nicholas likes having the diversity.
“I really like to do all the events,” Nicholas said. “It keeps me busy and makes track more appealing. Coach Hogan can put me in a field event. I don’t mind. I may not do as well as in other events, but I’m going to try to score. I think college coaches would be more interested in me if I were more versatile.”
Nicholas has had discussions with Rutgers about her going there to compete in the pentathlon.
“It’s the only [NCAA] Division I school to contact me,” Nicholas said. “That’s my goal.”
Nicholas believes that her success in this indoor season will only help her during the upcoming outdoor campaign.
“It really has prepared me,” Nicholas said. “It’s exciting. It proves that I could do it. It’s a major accomplishment, winning two in the county. I didn’t know at first, but now I know it’s a pretty big deal. It just hasn’t sunk in yet.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.