This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.05/04/2022 12:00 AM
Nichole Gomez has made the full-time leap to varsity team as a senior with North Branford softball squad this season. During her time with the team, Nichole has served as a role model for the club’s younger athletes and the type of player who the Thunderbirds try to build their program around.
Nichole started playing softball for North Branford’s youth program when she was in 5th grade. Originally, she had played basketball for coach Mark Lucibello at the recreational level in town. Lucibello encouraged Nichole to play softball, and Nichole took her coach’s advice.
Upon starting softball, Nichole got to work with her father Dan in the backyard. The two of them were constantly practicing. While it was an adjustment going from basketball to softball, Nichole put in as much work as necessary to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Nichole competed in the rec league through her 8th-grade season, in addition to playing at The Pit in East Haven as a 7th- and 8th-grader. Nichole also played softball at North Branford Intermediate School during this time. With ample softball experience prior to high school, Nichole was starting to feel more comfortable on the field.
“It helped me enter the sport more. I was basically playing all year-round,” says Nichole. “It makes you a lot more accustomed to it and much more interested in it.”
As she was joining the Thunderbirds, Nichole also started playing at The DiamondZone in North Haven. Nichole had mainly played second and third base while coming up through the ranks, but moved to the outfield at The DiamondZone. The outfield became Nichole’s main position and a place that she would continue to play during her four years at North Branford. As she waits for fly balls, Nichole is actively thinking about what play she has to make next as an outfielder.
“When the ball is coming towards me, I’m just thinking about what I’m going to do next when I get the ball,” Nichole says. “I want to make sure I know where the ball is and where it has to go. I just focus on what the next play is going to be.”
Nichole played for North Branford’s JV team as a freshman, but did get a few varsity at-bats during some big wins for the Thunderbirds. Even with all of her softball experience, Nichole had to get used to playing in a new program with new teammates. However, the older players on the team were welcoming to Nichole and her fellow freshmen. Knowing most of her freshman teammates from their days playing rec, Nichole’s worries subsided as the year went on.
“At first, it was very scary with all new people. But it was also very comforting, because we had a lot of good seniors and juniors. They made all the freshmen feel at home when we first transitioned in,” says Nichole. “I’ve been playing with the fellow freshmen since the rec league. They’re some of my best friends, and it couldn’t have been too scary going into it with them.”
Nichole has helped the Thunderbirds see major success in the playoffs throughout her tenure on the team. North Branford has claimed the Shoreline Conference title in each of Nichole’s seasons with the program also and reached the final of the Class M State Tournament last year. For all their success on the field, Nichole says that the T-Birds’ secret weapon is the camaraderie they share both on and off the diamond.
“Every year, we have had tough games to reach the Shoreline championship, but we’re so close on and off the field. Win or lose, we still play together,” Nichole says. “We have been very successful in the postseason, and I think it’s because of how close we are. When we know it’s going to be a tough game, we pick each other up and get through anything.”
Now a senior, Nichole is holding a valuable role as a key player off the bench for North Branford. Whether or not she’s on the field, Nichole prides herself on her communication skills and is always looking to build up her teammates. As she looks back during her time in the program, Nichole says that her teammates have been building her up at the same time. While she came to the team as a nervous freshman, Nichole found that playing softball for the Thunderbirds helped her break out of her shell.
“As a freshman, I was nervous to play the game. I had a lot of confidence issues,” says Nichole. “Putting in the work with these girls really boosted my confidence and made me more outgoing as a person outside of softball, as well.”
Head Coach Nick DeLizio always emphasizes to his players that he wants them to leave the program in a better than they found it. DeLizio says Nichole has been a shining star in regards to that philosophy as the senior has become a true leader who helps the T-Birds’ succeed in any way she can.
“Nichole is a special type of player in this program. She is fun to be around and makes everyone a better person. I tell the team that you always want to leave the program better than you came in, and Nichole has definitely set the bar high for years to come,” says DeLizio. “Nichole has played a crucial role for this season to run smoothly. She will continue to have success for years to come after she leaves North Branford High School.”
Nichole is going to attend Quinnipiac University upon graduating from North Branford. She will pursue a degree in finance in the school’s accelerated 3+1 business program.
As a member of the Thunderbirds, Nichole says she got to play for a great coaching staff and compete alongside teammates to whom she had ties long before high school. As she enters her home stretch with the program, Nichole is proud to represent the North Branford softball team and feels that playing for the T-Birds has allowed her to accomplish much more than just winning ballgames.
“It’s an honor to play for North Branford. We’re a great team. We have accomplished a lot,” Nichole says. “It’s something that will always be a part of me. I’ll always be a part of North Branford softball. It’s a lot bigger than literally softball.”