FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced's softball star Bubba Nickles has decided to return to UCLA for her senior year.
Nickles made the USA softball team for the Olympics but with the games being pushed to 2021, she decided to play one final season for the Bruins.
UCLA's softball team won the National Championship a year ago after making its fifth straight appearance to the College World Series.
The Bruins were 25-1 before their season got canceled due to COVID-19.
In 2021, Nickles has a chance at winning back to back national titles for her school and a gold medal for her country.
"It's definitely crossed my mind a few times," she said. "I'm just excited to spend time with those girls again. Their energy, their laughter, lights a fire inside me."
Head Coach Kelley Inouye-Perez said the team was ecstatic when they heard the news she was returning..
"Man, the team celebrated," she said. "They went sky high. Every time she came to the field, they would rushed to her and almost pick her up. She's part of the family and to be able to have her come back for the last lap was a huge celebration in Westwood."
The utility player began playing with USA Softball In 2015. She was the youngest player on the junior national team and is now the youngest player on the Olympic roster.
This will be the first time softball is in the Olympics since USA won Silver in 2008.
"It's literally been my dream ever since I saw the 2008 team," Nickles said. "I'm so pumped to say that I can be on an Olympic team in general."
"To see her grow from when we first started recruiting her way back in high school to where she is now, just her growth as a softball player, as a teammate, as a leader, it's so rewarding as a coach to just be along the journey with someone like a Bubba," Inouye-Perez said.
Nickles was a four-year starter at pitcher and shortstop at Merced High School and was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year her senior season.
Inouye-Perez recalls a time when she spoke to travel ball coaches in Southern California about Bubba.
"I remember one of the coaches said there's too much work to be done on her," Inouye-Perez said. "I thought, 'What a big mistake, huge mistake.' She's an All-American leading off the World Series with home runs and she's an Olympian. A lot of times when you're recruiting you're looking at the overall package, and she was such a diamond in the rough.
The Bruin will split time this upcoming year training with team USA and UCLA. The opportunity to compete on two of the biggest stages in her sport next year would be an unforgettable senior year.
"Honestly that's the peak," Nickles said. "I really want to shoot for that gold medal, just that experience of being on that stage."
She's a teammate with no ego who has a relentless work ethic.
"She practices like she's never won but plays like she's never lost," Inouye-Perez said.
Merced's Bubba Nickles eyes National Championship and Gold Medal for senior year at UCLA
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