Alicia Armstrong had heard stories about being an athlete at Nebraska. Her dad, Bill, and uncle, Joe, played football for the Huskers.
But the reality has been a learning experience for the 5-foot-10 freshman shortstop from Beatrice.
Competing for a successful Division I softball program has been much more time consuming and there’s been more skills to learn than she ever thought.
“It’s definitely not like high school,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t know how technical everything could be broken down to.”
Armstrong will be one of several local players on the field Wednesday when No. 22 Nebraska faces Missouri Valley Conference leader Creighton for the first time this season. The Huskers bring a 25-7 record into the 6 p.m. game at CU Sports Complex while the Bluejays are 19-9. Both teams have won eight of their last 10 games.
Armstrong is looking forward to competing against Bluejays such as ex-Lincoln Southwest infielder Liz Dike, someone she ran into often while competing in three sports in high school. Dike went 4 for 4 in CU’s series finale with Northern Iowa last Saturday.
“I’ve grown up watching Creighton, too,” Armstrong said. “They are kind of rivals, too. It will be a fun game to play.”
In the Armstrong household, though, it was all Nebraska. That’s the only place she wanted to play.
She just never expected to be contributing so much as a freshman.
After Mattie Fowler had knee surgery in August and moved from shortstop to first base, Armstrong took over at short during fall workouts.
She’s one of seven freshmen on the roster, five of whom started the Huskers’ season opener. There’s been at least three rookies in the lineup for every NU game.
The freshmen have combined for 22 extra-base hits. Along with her six doubles and two homers, Armstrong ranks third on the team with a .321 average and seven RBIs. She has a .469 slugging percentage with a .958 fielding percentage while starting 31 games.
She also has nine walks, something she’s worked on since the start of the season.
“I was just a little nervous and would swing at anything just to try to get the ball in play,” Armstrong said. “Now I’m taking balls and taking balls and getting the kind of pitch I want to hit. I’m hitting to get a solid hit.”
Armstrong said in high school she just went out and played, and did it well enough to earn the state’s Gatorade player of the year award. Though she had a career .514 average, including .690 as a senior, she didn’t realize there were different ways to swing.
Armstrong is picking up the strategy, like if there is a runner on first, you want to hit to the right side. She’s also been working on seeing the ball all the way to the plate.
“That’s taken the most time,” she said. “I continue to work on it.”
She loves playing shortstop because of the range it gives her, but she’s had a lot to learn there, too.
Practices are broken down into time slots to work on different areas of the game, which Armstrong likes, though there have been more than a few snafus.
“I think the biggest struggle is learning how to have a backhand,” she said. “It’s a struggle, but it’s good because I’m getting the hang of it.’
Armstrong is happy to put in the time. It’s fun to learn new things, and it’s all helping her stay consistent mentally.
“I hope I keep progressing and keep learning every practice,” she said. “Just keep pushing myself to get better.”
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