Friday, July 18, 2014

Nikki Palmer Steps Into Justin's World

In one season, Nikki Palmer went from virtual unknown to a star in the softball coaching world. In her first season at the helm of the Utah Valley Wolverines, Palmer's squad posted a dismal 18-42 record, yet thanks to a fifth-place conference seeding, advanced to the conference tournament and took all by surprise by marching to the title game and taking home the championship.

A young team, with nine freshmen, Palmer's squad knocked off #1 seed New Mexico State twice en route to the title. They were placed in the Eugene regional, and despite a two-and-out NCAA result, showed promise for coming seasons.

After the season, I talked to Coach Palmer about a wide variety of things. Believe it or not, even after years of asking what I've dubbed the "Robinson Crusoe question", Coach Palmer managed to give an answer that I had not heard before. Check out the full interview below, and you can follow Palmer through her Twitter or Facebook pages, or by listening to her radio show, "643 DP Radio", found here.

Justin’s World: How old were you when you first started playing softball? When did it become very evident that this was something you could excel at? 

Coach Nikki Palmer: I was 8. I loved it even though it took a long time at 8 years old to figure out the concept of the game. 

JW: While you were still playing, in high school and college, was becoming a coach something you had even imagined?
NP: I always knew I would be good at coaching, but at those ages I never really could figure out exactly what it was that I was meant to do. 

JW: Do you think that being a catcher helps you be a better coach, already having experience leading the team on the field & calling a game? 
NP: Absolutely! I did a lot with my pitching staff and also with my younger catchers while I was a SA. I was trained by the upperclassmen catchers before me and in turn I learned how to pass that along to the younger players as well. 

JW: 2014 was your first year as UVU head coach; what kind of goals did you set at the beginning of the year and how did the team do at meeting them? 
NP: The main goal we set was to win the WAC so obviously we did well at that. Many of our goals, as goals tend to be, were high and big so meeting those was not as successful. For example we wanted to sweep at home. I think overall the girls stuck to the plan in some tough situations. 

JW: Y'all went undefeated, 4-0 in the conference tournament and beat the #1 seed TWICE. One would think that after one loss, they would come out with a chip on their shoulder and play that much harder the second time around. What did you do to prepare for that and counter it in the championship game? 
NP: That is exactly what we prepared for. We knew that although we beat NMSU the first time around, we didn't get lucky. We knew that they would come back swinging hard and have that chip on their shoulder which would make them tougher to beat and really they were tough that championship game. 

JW: With an 18-40 season's record, regrettably, I've personally heard a few people that didn't think y'all belonged in the tournament. What do you say to the naysayers? 
NP: Honestly, it really doesn't matter what others think. At the core of this team there was a tremendous amount of talent that didn't find its click moment until late in the season. We never were and still are not worried about what others think. Like you said, we defeated the number 1 team twice in the tournament so we earned our spot. 

JW: Even though y'all lost in the Regionals, how does just making the tournament give your squad renewed confidence and just excitement for next year? 
NP: The girls have a good taste of what the post season and regionals is like and they were not satisfied at all with going 2 and out so I think it will only propel us next year and make us better. 

JW: Sum up, if you will, the Wolverines' 2014 season in three words. 
NP: Tenacious, Teamwork and Heart

JW: Let's say you were stranded on a deserted island (Robinson Crusoe-style, ya know), but you had the opportunity to take three things with you. No boats, no phones. What would you take? 

NP: I guess I would have to take a friend to keep me company, Bat/Ball/Glove to play on the beach and a plane to leave!

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