CHAMPAIGN — Illinois senior softball player Nicole Evans was named the 2017 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year during a ceremony in Richmond, Virginia Tuesday. The Glen Ellyn native was picked out of more than 1,200 nominees. The annual award goes to one male and one female college student of color who best exemplify academic and athletic success.
“I am so humbled and grateful to even be considered for this amazing award,” Evans said. “Arthur Ashe Jr. exemplified so much that I aspire to exude and contribute as an athlete, and I plan to continue to uphold the legacy of this great athlete.”
Evans is cementing her place not only off the field but on it as well. The Illini outfielder has lead the resurgence of Illini softball over the past two seasons. Now she’s the school’s all-time career leader in RBIs, breaking the record over the weekend with a sweep of Purdue.
“It means so much for the people who came before us,” Evans said. “A lot of people who came before I came to camps like Kelly and Matt taught me how to throw I would say, taught me how to hit at camp. Just the great seniors that I’ve had throughout the way. Coaches who have been here, I’m just so thankful to them and to the school who allowed me to do this.”
Evans blasted a grand slam late in Illinois’ victory over the Boilermakers on Saturday. It gave her 165 career RBIs, passing Angelena Mexicano’s record set in 2008. And it was a no doubter. The ball bounced over Florida Avenue and into the cemetery across the street.
“I heard that it hit the median and landed into the cemetery so part of our post game speech we were saying Rest In Peace to that ball,” Illinois head coach Tyra Perry said.
Now is not the time to rest for Evans, though. She’s poised to set another record soon. The slugger is only three home runs away from tying Mexicano for that record as well.
“I had no idea I was even close,” Evans said. “Just like the home runs, I don’t really pay attention to my stats but it feels pretty good.”
Evans’ impact reaches farther than the diamond, something Perry noticed as soon as she took over the Illinois program.
“She means the world to us,” the second year Illini head coach said. “She’s just a great example of a student-athlete. She does everything the right way and I always wondered ‘Does this kid have a flaw? What’s going on?’ and you know, she doesn’t. She’s just herself, completely, wholly, totally herself and we love her.”