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In Robert Morris’s softball team’s 2012 season opener, Nicole Sleith, then a freshman lefthander from Smithton, Pa., entered the game in the fifth inning with her team down.

She proceeded to throw three innings of shutout relief and earned her first career victory as the Colonials rallied to win 3-2.  Now, two seasons, 42 wins and consecutive Northeast Conference (NEC) Pitcher of the Year awards later—only the fifth time that has happened in 32-year history of the conference—it is easy to look at that game and say it was a sign of things to come. 

“We knew Nicole would be a great player for us, but we really didn’t expect her to have this much impact this quickly,” said head coach Dr. Craig Coleman. “She was getting better month by month before she got here and she continued improving through the fall season and into the spring. We always felt confident with her out there, even from the get-go. But we didn’t expect her to rise to such a high level so quickly.”

Sleith credits the eight-game fall season her freshman year for her rapid adjustment to the intricacies of the college game.

“The fall season really helped,” she said. “It served as a big adjustment period. I had to change speeds a lot more, visualize situations and how I was going to pitch to certain hitters. I had to stay a step ahead of the batter at all times. Everyone is solid in college; one through nine in the lineup can hit.”

That freshman season, Sleith finished with a 25-11 record, 1.59 earned run average and a whopping 251 strikeouts on her way to becoming just the second person ever to receive both NEC Pitcher of the Year and NEC Newcomer of the Year Awards in the same season. Sleith’s sophomore campaign was equally impressive. She posted a 17-9 overall record, with a 1.73 ERA and 206 strikeouts. Meanwhile, opponents batted a sickly .180 against her, an improvement of over 40 points from the previous season.

Sleith’s dominance comes from an impeccable control over her fastball—she has a career strikeout to walk ratio of 5.3:1—combined with a devastating changeup.

“Nicole throws hard and does a great job changing speeds and mixing up locations,” Coleman said. “Her changeup has really turned into a devastating pitch that she can throw in any situation.”

Sleith’s high school softball coach at Yough, Lucas Cannizzaro, wasn’t as surprised with her quick start.

“I actually did expect her to have a huge impact early,” Cannizzaro said. “Nicole has an exceptional work ethic. She works very hard toward whatever task is in front of her and she is extremely athletic, so it wasn’t a stretch to say she was going to succeed the way she has. It was a nice luxury to have a player of her caliber. My first year was her freshman year, and I didn’t realize how lucky I was until she was graduated.” 

Robert Morris kept close tabs on Sleith throughout her stellar high school career. 

“Recruiting her was really a pleasure,” Coleman said. “She is a great kid from a great family. I knew her pitching coach in high school, Janna Hudson, and she really clued us in to how quickly Nicole was improving and developing as a pitcher really as early as her sophomore year. We had our eye on her.”

Robert Morris wasn’t the only school to take notice of Sleith’s talents. She was named the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Player of the Year in 2011 after she capped off a stellar career, racking up 65 wins, 970 strikeouts, three no-hitters and three All-State selections, and leading Yough to a WPIAL championship her senior season. Recruited by softball powers like Georgia and South Carolina, it would seem that Robert Morris didn’t stand a chance. 

But, Sleith only had eyes for the Colonials.

“Ever since my first visit, I knew I wanted to go to Robert Morris,” Sleith said. “One of my friends, Alexa Bryson, was there and she told me how great the school was and how much fun everybody had on the team. I visited a few other places, but I knew the whole time that I was going to RMU.”

While Robert Morris’s season didn’t end the way the team wanted—they entered the NEC Tournament as the top seed but lost their first two games—it is easy to see that the future is bright and that Sleith, a biomedical engineering major, has opened many doors for herself both in and out of the game. 

“I’m not sure what I want to do when I graduate,” Sleith said. “I haven’t really thought about it because I have two more years to compete. I can definitely see myself coaching, but I don’t know yet about trying to play professionally or anything.”

“Nicole can accomplish anything that she wants,” Coleman, also the RMU athletic director, said. “She’s incredibly intelligent on and off the mound. To think what she has accomplished so far—the conference pitcher of the year in her first two seasons—that’s a helluva way to start a career, and she still has time left. There’s no telling what more she can do.”

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