Nicholas joins 1,000-point club

Britney Dixon, Sports Manager

The leather ball in her possession was as much of a wakeup call as an alarm sounding in the middle of the night. When she released it, a switch flipped, causing six girls decorated in royal blue to leap from their seats. As the ball knocked off the plexiglass rectangle and bumped the orange rim on its descent to the floor, they would freeze, then return to their seats.

With five minutes and 38 seconds left in Saturday’s road bout with Wentworth, the tension was clear. Three times her teammates performed their sideline dance before the big moment occurred. Minutes later, Mariah Nicholas grabbed her second steal of the game and raced down the court to the paint with 2:19 on the clock for her 1,000th career point.

“I could hear my parents in the crowd every time I missed a shot. Some of my teammates were smiling at me and I knew I must be close,” Nicholas said. “I guess I was one point away and that’s when they started making all these noises in the stands.”

It was the feeling you get when you know someone has a secret that they really want to tell you.

Head Coach Kelly Thompson knew how big of an accomplishment this was for Nicholas, but the most important thing was earning the win, and emotions were not going to stop that. Thompson reserved a timeout for the celebration.

“The place went crazy,” Thompson said. “[Her family] had T-shirts made. All of the parents went crazy. I knew if I could call a timeout when it happened that I would.”

When Thompson stopped the clock, the entire team rushed the court to celebrate.

“I was relieved. It was nice to see my team attack me, but I thought that once that was done, the team could just focus on finishing out the game,” Nicholas said.

For the majority of the game, Nicholas was not performing to her usual caliber offensively. She shot 30.4 percent from the field, which was significantly below her season average of 42.5 percent.

Nicholas has averaged 16.9 points per game thus far this season. Going into Saturday, she only needed 15 to hit four digits.

“I had no guarantees for it — 15 points is a lot. I just tried not to think about it and I just focused on the win,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas first heard she was nearing 1,000 career points at Roger Williams from the men’s basketball team. When she was roughly 85 points away, the men told her they had been keeping track. They were not alone. At the beginning of the season, senior Anna Walther, Nicholas’ co-captain, made the calculations herself.

“She’s had so much playing time,” Walther said. “I knew with her parents that she had to have known too.”

Nicholas’ parents, in fact, had known as well when she tried to share the news with them. Nicholas did not want to keep track herself, and according to Walther, Nicholas rarely spoke of it.

Before Saturday’s game, the captains — Walther, Stephanie Bramante, and Rebecca Ritchie — met with coach Thompson to discuss Nicholas’ pending accomplishment. They all believed it was inevitable and knew going into the game that it was more important to get the win and just keep Nicholas’ goal in the back of their minds — just let it happen.

Thompson did not talk to Nicholas on the matter in fear that she might feel pressured. The team focus all season had been one game at a time, and that mentality need not be jeopardized.

However, once gameday hit, the whole team knew.

“After the 14th point, it seemed like an endless effort to give Mariah the ball,” Thompson said. 

Walther agreed, knowing she had given Nicholas the ball three out of the four times she handled it between her 14th and 15th points.

“At that point — for me, as a coach — it would be great if she gets it, but I really want to make sure we’re taking quality shots right now,” Thompson said.

With the focus switching to the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) tournament, Nicholas has a goal to keep the energy high. According to her, towards the end of the season, it is easy to lose momentum.

The current roster has been together since October. With that in mind, it is imperative that the seniors maintain a proper mentality to keep everyone focused for the playoffs.

Per usual, the team will focus on one play at a time, one game at a time.

Since their rookie year, Walther has seen Nicholas take a role as a leader, whether it be offensively or vocally.

“Freshman year she definitely had a different mentality. It was hard having Bridget Quilty and other people that you were looking to get the ball to,” Walther said. “Now, she comes in every single day, just ready to go. She knows what our goal is and she knows what she has to do as a teammate and a player to get there.”

“As much as we’ve seen her grow as a player, her biggest growth has been her maturity. With that personal growth, she’s been able to mature in a way that she can step into a practice and be focused every day, and I think that in and of itself has helped her become a better player,” Thompson said.

Growing up, Nicholas veered away from travel leagues that cost her valuable and intense coaching lessons. It also forced her to do almost all of her recruiting process herself. According to Thompson, because of it, it didn’t allow her to see how good she could be.

“From my perspective, Mariah was the kid who was always really physically gifted. I knew that if she wanted to put in the time to work on her skills that she would be a great Division III player,” Thompson said. “In the long run, I think [RWU] was the best place she could’ve been.”

One of Thompson’s most memorable moments with Nicholas took place before she was a Hawk. During recruiting, Nicholas told Thompson that everyone she knew was going to University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, but she wanted to be somewhere that she’d be challenged. Internally, Nicholas always knew she wanted to push herself more, whether it be athletically or academically.

“I’m super proud of the person she’s become and that basketball has been an avenue for her to grow in while she’s at Roger Williams,” Thompson said.

“It’s just been nice to see her grow throughout the years, as a teammate, player, student,” Walther said. “It’s kind of been nice to see her mature and become who she is today. Whether it’s on the court or in policing, she’ll be able to achieve great things, and right now, she has everything going for her.”