By David Willis
Before each at-bat this season, Andover tri-captain Meaghan Leary has taken on a new ritual — involving a pair of batting gloves that would otherwise be gathering dust in her teammate’s closet.
“They are actually Nicole Ericson’s batting gloves,” said Leary. “Every time I go up to bat I slap my hands together and say, ‘This one’s for you Nicole.’”
The entire Andover High softball team was dealt a brutal blow over the winter when Ericson, a star junior, suffered a season-ending torn ACL while competing for the Golden Warrior ski team.
But while the slugging outfielder may be stuck on the bench this year, Ericson has set her eyes on making her mark on the diamond, as one of the three captains that are being counted upon to guide the young Warriors.
“I know how much it kills Nicole not to be able to play,” said tri-captain Allison Conway. “She is one of our best players and a great person, so it’s tough to see her hurt. We want to make her proud, and I think we can accomplish more than anyone thinks that we can.”
Coming off a sophomore season in which she hit .329 with 15 RBIs and 19 runs hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot, Ericson’s junior season was over before it started.
“I was just coming around a gate during a race,” she Ericson, who underwent surgery on the knee last Wednesday. “I lost my balance, my ski caught and my knee buckled.
“Softball is the biggest part of my life, so not being able to play is just heart-breaking. I love softball so much. But I also feel like this can be a learning opportunity for me. I can learn to lead even without being on the field.”
If anyone can do it, her teammates have no doubt Ericson is the one.
“She gives 100 percent to everything she does,” said Conway. “She works harder than anyone to be a good captain. She can help us surprise a few people.”
For Leary, this season has been a reversal of roles for herself and her friend.
“Last year I broke my hand after getting hit by a pitch and missed about six weeks of the season,” said Leary. “Every day Nicole was out there to supporting me. Before a lot of at-bats she would look at me and say, ‘This one is for you! I’m going to hit this one out. Nicole is my best friend, and we want to deliver something special.”
Leary, the team’s starting shortstop and No. 3 hitter, has also established herself as the voice of authority on and off the field.
“Meg is really the tough one,” said Conway with a laugh. “She is always the one that starts the cheers. If something needs to be done she will yell at you, but in a motivating way. She knows how to help people and get them to do their best.”
Conway, the starting first baseman who has also missed time due to a concussion, meanwhile is the most reserved of the three leaders.
“Allison is amazing,” said Leary. “She is just the most positive person you will ever meet. She always has your back. She is just the person you go to when you have a problem. She will find a way to help. She also catches everything I throw at her.”
As for Ericson — who was left on her couch for a week following surgery — she has no doubt she will be able to enforce her leadership once she is allowed to attend practice again, on crutches or not.
“Of course I will,” she said. “I’m already doing it. I know I need to keep people focused, and that can be hard. I obviously can’t lead by example, since I can’t play. But I want to show the girls that you don’t have to be playing to lead and contribute to the team.”
Despite the team’s 0-3 start through Monday, the Warriors don’t plan on hanging their heads and giving up just yet.
“We want to surprise people and show them that we can win,” said Leary. “It’s always fun to be the underdog. We have a lot of young kids that really know the game. People may think we are an easy win, but we plan to prove them wrong.”
See their story
For video of all three Andover softball captains reflecting on their season and Nicole Ericson’s injury, visit andovertownsman.com.