Julianna Nisen moved around the Ewing High School softball lineup a lot last year, but the senior has found at spot in the top of the order this year.
Batting second behind Devon Kueny, the senior is making the most of her final season with the Blue Devils. She is off to the best start of her career with a .696 batting average through the first eight games of the season with seven doubles and two triples.
“I’m going up with confidence that I can hit the ball, and do everything I can to get on base,” Nisen said.
Nisen is in her third season starting in center field, and she knew she’d be in a bigger role in her final year. She has lived up to expectations to help Ewing start 8-4 while restocking their lineup after graduating five starters.
The seniors have stepped up while a new fleet of starters has jumped in and proven they are ready to play. Many of them were JV players a year ago.
“It was an unknown factor,” said Ewing head coach Dan Bernoski. “We lost four quality hitters and our No. 1 pitcher.”
Nisen is one of just three seniors along with Deanna Hedrick and pitcher Lauren Christensen who returned to the team this year.
“It’s very challenging,” Nisen said. “I didn’t want to have a leadership role when I was younger. Now that I’m in a leadership role, I get to see the problems and resolve them with my co-captains. I also try to get feedback how I can get to be a better captain.”
Christensen has picked up the pitching in place of the graduated Danielle Rinaldi. She has given Ewing all it needs in the circle in the early going with 31 strikeouts vs. just six walks in her first 31 innings of work as their new ace.
Christensen has had good fielding behind her, and the offense is kicking into gear after last year’s offense broke the school record for hits in a season. They have swung the bats well again, beginning with Kueny, who has been a difficult out.
Nisen has found another level of hitting thanks in part to some offseason work with her travel team, the Ewing Edge. “I’ve been working on my mechanics,” Nisen said. “When I came into the season, I was already warmed up. I didn’t have to work into anything.”
Hedrick has picked up where she left off at the end of last year as one of the heroes who helped Ewing get to the CJ III title game.
The development of the new starters has been a key to the promising opening for the Blue Devils. Their annual trip to Florida helped them to sort out the new roles.
“The biggest benefit would definitely be team bonding,” Nisen said. “We get the chance every year to team bond and get to know everyone. I think that’s the best thing you can get.”
Ewing continues to progress as they get deeper into another loaded Colonial Valley Conference. They have been working at base running, defensive coverage and bunts, some of the subtler parts of the game that impact it mightily. The Blue Devils have hard working players that pick up the importance of the little things quickly.
“We have so many kids in the national honor society or high honors classes,” Bernoski said. “I always rave about that. We have one of the smartest teams in the school. I’m kind of blessed in that regard.”
Ewing expects that it can pick up its offense when the weather warms up, and they’ve been able to count on their fielding to start the season.
Bernoski is cautiously optimistic about Ewing’s season after seeing how well it started. Ewing has found the new pieces to fit in to the lineup, and has hit the ball well overall to back Christensen’s pitching.
“I’m encouraged,” Bernoski said. “We’re almost a third of the way through the season. We just have to keep it going.”
The seniors are helping to keep the team pushing forward. It’s their final year before they continue their careers elsewhere. Christensen is still weighing her options, while Hedrick will play for Wheaton College and Nisen will continue at Mercer County Community College.
The Blue Devils have largely avoided talking about last year, but there is one thing they’d love to repeat from a year ago—another shot at a sectional championship. Judging from their start, that’s a realistic possibility.
“I think we’re going to make it far this year,” Nisen said. “If we keep our minds to it and keep our confidence high, if we put our best team on the field, I don’t think anyone can beat us. It’s all about your approach.”