When the clock hit double zero, senior Nikki Hegstetter was overcome with emotion as she rushed to embrace her coach, who helped her get to this point. It was her senior night, and she led her team to a historic victory over rival Tennessee, something the program had not done since 1984.
“I came to the school I was meant to come to,” Hegstetter said. “Everything came full circle and in perspective the night that we beat Tennessee.”
Hegstetter’s journey to this career-defining moment was anything but smooth.
She started sports at a very young age, playing everything from basketball to volleyball. She was usually taller than the other kids, so playing came easy to her.
From the beginning, her father knew he wanted her to take advantage of her athleticism.
“I think they [her parents] were hoping for a boy and never got one,” Hegstetter said. “Well, eventually they did a few years later, but I think my dad was like, ‘I did not get a boy, so I am going to make Nikki play every sport imaginable.’ ”
Hegstetter started to grow up and play with more competition around her. She had always relied on her size to succeed, but when players started to grow and develop around her, she knew she had to work harder to improve. Her mother, Theresa, saw her mindset change when other players started challenging her abilities.
“Her height had always gotten her through making teams and everything,” her mother said. “Then the competition got stronger, and she got cut. We have said to this day that was the time she realized that her height alone was not going to get her through. That is when she got serious.”
Once she realigned her focus, Hegstetter’s career took off. As a freshman at Harrison High School, she immediately made varsity and became a contributor.
Her high school coach, Steve Lenahan, ushered her into becoming a leader on the court as soon as she started playing for him.
“He demanded excellence out of her,” her mother said. “She was always one of the better players on the team, but he didn’t let her rest on that. He really pushed her hard. He probably helped her the most on the court.”
Hegstetter had tremendous success before college, being named varsity MVP all four years of her high school career. She led the team to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history her senior year. At the end of her career, Hegstetter was also the first girl in her school’s history to pass both the 1,000-point mark and 1,000-rebound mark.
Leading the team, Hegstetter started to get noticed by multiple schools. Letters poured in, but she knew she always wanted to go to the University of Florida to play.
“My dream school was always Florida because I grew up cheering for that college,” she said. “I went there and it just was not going to work out basketball-wise.”
Florida asked Hegstetter to walk-on, but her goal was always to get a scholarship to play. Living in the same state, her next choice was The University of Georgia.
Georgia spent a lot of time recruiting her, calling her and visiting her, all to sway her decision. She started to develop a relationship with the staff recruiting her.
“I went to their camp, and they offered another girl instead of me,” she said. “That was another road block.”
Alabama was not even on her radar throughout this process. She received letters from the school, but she was never really pursued by the coaching staff there.
Hegstetter did not want to visit Alabama. It had not paid much attention to her and she wanted to explore her other options. It was not until she was offered an opportunity to come to its camps that she looked at it as a possibility.
Even with this offer, it took some convincing from her mother to go to visit Alabama.
“I was like, ‘Mom, I am not going there. I am not going to go there. I am not wasting a free weekend at a place where I would never go,’ ” she said. “She told me to just go.”
Hegstetter made the decision to attend camp at Alabama and fell in love with the campus. Once she got to the camp, she played in front of the coaches and turned some heads.
The head coach at the time, Wendell Hudson, offered her a scholarship. Her mother said the two were completely caught off guard by the offer.
“Alabama had sent her all the letters the other schools had,” her mother said. “We did not realize that there was any special interest there.”
Hegstetter experienced many highs and lows leading up to her career. The assistant coaches who recruited her left the program for other jobs. She had to develop relationships with a brand new set of coaches.
After a coaching change, the program brought in former Texas Tech and Purdue head coach Kristy Curry to take over the program following her freshman season.
Curry and Hegstetter immediately formed a bond as she bought into what the new coaching staff hoped for the program. Even through all the changes, Hegstetter found herself finally in a comfortable situation.
Curry believes that Hegstetter’s belief in her was huge for the program’s development.
“She has never asked why, she has just believed in everything we have tried to establish culture-wise,” Curry said. “On and off the court, she has believed in us. She has had both feet in.”
Under Curry, Hegstetter started to become one of the leaders on the team both on and off the court. She excels in academics, making the SEC academic honor roll each year at Alabama. Hegstetter also received numerous academic and service awards for her work.
Already a three-year graduate of The University of Alabama marketing program, she was awarded the Austin Scholar for Outstanding Senior in the Culverhouse College of Commerce during the 2014-2015 school year.
Her dedication to the classroom and community came from the values her parents taught her at an early age.
“What you do on the court is …read more
Source:: The Crimson White Sports