By Pete Borello
This was going to be the year. So close to qualifying for the Central Coast Section track and field finals last season, Nicole Player was excited and ready for her last chance to make it.
“I really wanted to go and compete at CCS, and maybe even make it to state,” the Los Altos High senior said.
Player even skipped basketball in favor of training for the long jump, triple jump and 300-meter hurdles with her club team over the fall and winter. She was confident that all the extra work, which started last summer, would pay off this spring.
But just as the Eagles’ track season began, it ended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team’s March 4 season-opening meet at Homestead proved to be its last.
“It’s a bummer, because I really wanted to improve myself before college,” said Player, who missed last year’s CCS finals by one spot in the long jump and was the second alternate in the triple jump. “I guess it wasn’t in the cards.”
At least Player has four more years of track ahead of her. She is bound for Pomona College in the fall. Player also drew interest from Amherst College and made official visits to both schools last fall in her quest to find a place where she could be more of a student-athlete than an athlete-student.
“I had visited Pomona previously and loved it, but I also loved Amherst,” she said. “When I went back to Pomona, I really fell in love with it.”
Because Pomona and Amherst are NCAA Division III institutions, neither could offer Player an athletic scholarship, but she said both coaches promised her a place on their respective track teams if she got accepted. With the support of head coach
Kirk Reynolds, Player said she applied early decision to Pomona and got in.
Player’s grades and extra-curricular activities surely helped her cause as well. The Mountain View resident, who took five AP classes this school year, has a weighted GPA of 4.6.
Player is also part of Los Altos High’s Broken Box Theatre Company, performing in five plays since joining her junior year. Her biggest role came in last fall’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” – starring as Mary Hatch – but that wasn’t her favorite part.
“It was the first one I did, a murder mystery called ‘Don’t Try to Wake Him, Hand Me the Shovel,’” Player said. “I played a batty old southern lady. That was fun.”
Balancing sports, schoolwork and theater can be tricky, but Player has no complaints.
“Sometimes I would go from practice to long tech weeks,” she said of the week leading up to a play’s opening, “but it was worth it.”
Player has kept busy since grade school, when she first took up basketball, soccer and softball. She added track at Graham Middle School, running her first hurdles race in sixth grade. Player was also introduced to the triple jump, which quickly became one of her favorite events.
“No one else did it,” she said. “I made the county meet my first year and stuck with it. It was fun.”
When Player arrived at Los Altos, she narrowed her focus to track and basketball, giving up the latter after her junior year.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Player, whose sister Tessa made the varsity basketball team as a freshman this year, “but I knew I wanted to do track in college.”
Player entered this season with personal bests of 34 feet, 11 3/4 inches in the triple jump, 17 feet in the long jump and 47.94 seconds in the 300 hurdles. She said her best shot of making state would have been in the triple jump, estimating that she needed a 1-foot improvement to qualify.
Dave Barth, her coach at Los Altos and the Fox Athletics track club, noted that Player is all about getting better – and helping others do the same.
“Nicole is a great athlete, always showing up ready to work hard and give it her all,” he said. “She is also a natural leader. As coaches, we can always count on Nicole to demonstrate drills, lead core exercises and be a source of encouragement for her teammates.”
Player said she continues to train during the pandemic. She works on her running and jumping three to four days a week and bikes and does core exercises every day.
“I’m not going to let the quarantine get me out of shape,” she said.