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As Kutztown High grad Nikki Weaknecht plays her senior season on the Lock Haven University women’s softball team, she runs into the same obstacles that all other collegiate athletes run into - mainly, balancing the training and practicing of their particular sport with the academic side of college life. But for Weaknecht, those challenges are doubled.
Weaknecht is a two-sport athlete (field hockey and softball) at Lock Haven - a very rare occurance in college athletics. Today, most athletes are forced to chose one sport they want to focus on in college. For Weaknecht, she decided to focus on two.
“Being an athlete in college is hard to begin with,” said Weaknecht. “Constantly having practice, games and traveling, all while trying to balance a full course load. I was very fortunate to play two sports in college, but it has also been one of the hardest things I have ever done.”
It’s difficult to play two sports for two reasons. First, you have two season where you’re traveling all over Eastern half of the country, taking time away from class, and the outside workload from each class.
Second, while her teammates in both sports are training and practicing their sport all-year around, Nikki has to split her time between the two sports. That’s a huge advantage for her teammates who can improve their game to a higher degree simply because they can spend more time working on it.
“I rarely have any time off,” said Weaknecht. “I have trained and practiced all year round for four years. Field hockey starts in the fall and goes until November. I usually get a week off between the end of my field hockey season and the beginning of pre-season for softball.
“I miss the off-season for both sports because I’m in-season both semesters. It does hurt me because I don’t get as much practice and exposure to each sport as my teammates do. They focus on their respective sports all year round and my attention needs to be split. This requires extra time and dedication on my end so I don’t fall behind while all of my teammates are constantly improving.
“Over the summer I work extra hard to prepare for both sports. I play in leagues for both field hockey and softball and try to do as much extra work as I can so I make up for missing the off seasons.”
Despite the challenges, she has managed to stay on both teams all four years at Lock Haven. Last fall she started all 20 games for the field hockey team. She was tied for second on the team with six goals, and third on the team in points with 17.
As a junior, she started 19 of the 20 Lock Haven field hockey games, scoring five goals and adding one assist.
Last year she had her best softball season yet, hitting .271, starting 34 of the team’s 42 games at second base. She had four doubles and three home runs with 17 RBIs and 21 runs scored. She was named named to the All-PSAC Central Team.
And by the way, she has one of the highest grade point averages among her teammates on both teams, and was a National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-Academic award winner in her freshman and sophomore field hockey seasons.
“Nikki is an exceptional student athlete here at Lock Haven,” said Lock Haven head softball coach Kelly Shannon. “She takes both aspects of the word ‘student-athlete’very seriously. She has worked hard to be great at both.
“It’s rare to have a player who can juggle both aspects of college so well, and to have someone do it competing in two sports is even more special.”
When she first arrived at Lock Haven, the plan was to play field hockey, then MAYBE play softball in the spring. After experiencing her first Division 1 pre-season and taking 18 credits her first semester, she called her father and told him she didn’t want to play softball in the spring.
“I had a lot going on and I wasn’t sure if I could handle an entire other sport.” said Nikki.
Her father’s advice was this - ‘you aren’t going to know unless you try.’ The next day she tried out for the softball team and made it.
“That was the best advice he could have given me,” said Weaknecht. “It has been such a rewarding experience and I’m very fortunate to be given such an amazing opportunity.”
Her most memorable softball game came on April 7 of 2012, her junior season. In the first game of a doubleheader, Nikki hit her first collegiate home run. Later in that same game she smacked a grand slam. She finished the day with two homers and six RBIs.
“Not only was that one of my best moments as a softball player, but it was one of the best moments of my life to see all my teammates waiting for me at home plate jumping and screaming,” said Weaknecht. “That’s something I will never forget.”
Nikki is also grateful that she has received full cooperation from her coaches in both sports. She knows that not every college coach would allow her to play any other sport. There is no denying that playing softball does take something away from her field hockey game - and her softball game suffers as a result of her playing field hockey.
“My coaches for the most part have been great about me playing both sports,” said Weaknecht. “All of my coaches have been accomodating and don’t hold it against me that I miss the offseason.
“That being said, they also expect me to work twice as hard since I miss that vaulable time. They are so understanding that they come watch me play the opposite sport. My softball coaches come to my field hockey games and vice versa. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
“Two-sport athletes at the college level are rare, but they are usually the most dedicated, competitive and respected athletes on a roster,” said Coach Shannon. “The same can easily be said for Nikki, since she was voted captain by both sports in her senior year. and no voice is louder than that of the team.”