By Gerry Gittelson
Published: Thursday, May 16, 2002
Ask others about UCLA softball slugger Stacey
Nuveman's most defining moments and you'll hear about
Especially when you consider:
Nuveman is the all-time NCAA home run leader with 88
entering NCAA Regional play vs. Liberty this morning
in Columbia, S.C. The mark is three better than the
previous NCAA record.
She hit a three-run home run to give the U.S. a
dramatic extra-inning victory over China in the
semifinals of the 2000 Olympic Games.
Some rave about the time Nuveman reached out to hit a
home run to right field, foiling an attempted
intentional walk. Actually, this happened twice.
UCLA coach Sue Enquist points to a spot about 100 feet
above the scoreboard in left field. "Right there,
about two-thirds of the way up that tree," Enquist
recalls. "Stacey hit one there once -- and the ball
was still going up."
Nuveman, a senior catcher who is batting .549 with 18
home runs, 60 RBI and a 1.063 slugging percentage this
season, is the Babe Ruth of college softball. But her
own defining moment has nothing to do with home runs,
national championships, the Olympics, All-America
honors or any softball accomplishments.
No, it came when the Make-a-Wish Foundation called
Nuveman and told her about an 18-year-old terminally
ill cancer patient from Ohio.
"Her last wish was to meet me," Nuveman said. "But
most of the time, the foundation flies the wish-maker
into Los Angeles, you shake hands, and the whole thing
takes 30 minutes. This girl wanted me to come there,
to Ohio, because she was a softball player and she
wanted to share the wish with her whole team. Here she
is with Hodgkin's disease, fighting for her life and
given this big chance, and she wanted to take a back
seat and be unselfish because her team and her friends
were the ones who had given her support through
"Talk about perspective. That was mind-boggling to me.
Of course, I went to Ohio to meet her and her team and
I've carried that experience with me every day. It's
the most significant thing I've ever done in my life."
Those in Nuveman's circle appreciate her warm
personality and humility just as much as her softball
"I think everyone always talks about her physical
attributes, but the most impressive thing about Stacey
is her character and integrity and unselfishness,"
Pitcher Amanda Freed believes Nuveman has made her
better -- on the field and everywhere else.
"Stacey is just an all-around good person," Freed
said. "She's confident in herself but always finds
time to help me. We work together. She's just someone
to look up to."
Keeping it in perspective
The Bruins are ranked No. 1 in the nation. But
throughout the season, Nuveman's thoughts and feelings
have drifted away from softball.
As a member of the U.S. Olympic team, she helped bring
nations together in the spirit of peace and
sportsmanship. But the events of Sept. 11 and the
continued unrest in the Middle East have affected her
"I think after Sept. 11, I got more perspective,"
Nuveman said. "On a grand scale, I realized how small
softball really is. For me, softball was put in its
place that day. It made me appreciate the small things
and made me enjoy smelling the roses because you never
know what's going to happen tomorrow. I was raised
with Christian values and I know there's a bigger
plan, one we don't have any control over.
"My favorite quote is: 'Win without boasting. Lose
without excuses.' That says it all. You can't hate a
humble winner. That's what it's all about. When the
game's over, you shake hands because you know it's
just a game. There's no reason to carry things past
Evolution of a star
Enquist said Nuveman always was destined for
greatness; the coach spotted the potential when
Nuveman was in high school at St. Lucy's in Glendora.
But the 6-foot Nuveman, who stopped growing in 10th
grade, said she actually was more well-known as a
basketball player than for playing softball.
"You could count my career home runs in high school on
one hand and that might even be pushing it," Nuveman
Nevertheless, Enquist rarely had seen such a
combination of size, agility, raw athleticism and
"From the beginning, Stacey was extremely
fundamentally sound. The day she signed I was
thrilled," Enquist said. "I felt it was a great fit
because besides just being a tremendous athlete, I
thought she could handle the academics and the
pressure of being a UCLA Bruin. Stacey Nuveman
embraced all that. She loves the challenge and she has
embraced the pressure that is part of being in our
program. She really enjoys it and handles it
Nuveman batted .457 as a freshman in 1997, broke the
UCLA single-season record with 20 home runs (tying the
UCLA career record in just one season), and was named
first-team All-America and Pacific-10 Conference
Newcomer of the Year.
Nuveman was satisfied but not convinced. Still a
teen-ager, she didn't grasp how good she really was.
"I was tall, an early bloomer, and I think I was still
uncomfortable about that," Nuveman said. "It wasn't a
question of if I was good, it was a question of did I
really believe it. Actually, I just felt lucky, and I
remember hoping my luck wasn't going to run out. My
freshman year, I wouldn't call a drop pitch when a
runner was on third base because I was afraid it might
become a passed ball and the runner would score."
Nuveman redshirted the next season because of an
injury, coupled with the fact UCLA was placed on
probation. That gave her an opportunity to work on
fundamentals; she practiced hitting, fielding and
throwing for hours every day for a year.
"I lost some weight and really sharpened my skills,"
As a sophomore, Nuveman led the nation in home runs
(31) and RBI (91), and led the Pac-10 in six
categories. She was walked more times in one season
than any player in Bruins history. In fact, one of the
walks was an intentional walk with the bases loaded to
extend UCLA's victory margin to eight runs -- ending
the game by the eight-run mercy rule.
"That one really amazed me. I don't know how the other
team must have felt after that," Enquist said.
Nuveman had arrived, not just in everyone else's eyes,
but in her own.
"I felt different than my freshman year," Nuveman
said. "My whole game improved. By this time, I wasn't
worried about calling a drop with a runner on third. I
was like, 'Bring it on.' "
Back for more
The next year Nuveman redshirted again to compete in
the Olympics, helping the U.S. to a gold medal in
Sydney. At that point, she certainly had nothing left
to prove at UCLA and could have received an annual
five-figure salary to remain on the U.S. National
But there was no way she wasn't coming back.
Throughout her life, she had made sacrifices for
softball, forgoing family vacations and weddings, and
"trips to the river." The camaraderie of her teammates
was important to Nuveman. Socially, she said, she
barely had anything else. She said the decision to
return to UCLA was practically automatic.
"Yes, Stacey could have left once she made the
Olympics," Enquist said. "But she made a commitment to
UCLA and she wanted to honor it. The day she confirmed
that she was coming back, I was just thrilled. I feel
indebted to her because she didn't have to do that."
The past two years have been a blue and gold blur of
tape-measure home runs, winning streaks and individual
honors of every shape and size. Now that her career is
coming to end, Nuveman is wistful.
"I've been so wrapped up, I haven't had a chance to
catch my breath," she said. "The other day, someone
came around and was talking about another annual
highlight video. I was like, 'A highlight video?
Another season has ended so quickly?' Now that I can
finally start looking back, I realize my experience at
UCLA is more than I expected. I always had dreams but
not the details. I feel real good about my success.
But like I said, I just hope I've been able to help
others. And all the laughter, that's what I'll carry
Nuveman will be irreplaceable, but Enquist said she'll
miss Nuveman's presence just as much as her bat.
"The kids love Stacey's humor and wit," Enquist said.
"She's so physically intimidating, but she cracks a
lot of jokes and is entertaining to be around. It's a
long season, so it's nice to have someone like that
around who doesn't take herself so seriously. She'll
go down in history as the greatest slugger ever, but
she'll still laugh when she strikes out. As for the
rest of the team, there's no need to boo-hoo when
Stacey is around. If she doesn't get upset, then
surely they shouldn't. It's just an at-bat, just a
Former Bruins star Lisa Fernandez, who played on the
U.S. National team with Nuveman and is a part-time
UCLA assistant coach, loves just hanging out with
"She's very talented off the field," Fernandez said.
"She can sing, act, impersonate, you name it. She does
some great impersonations."
Perhaps more than anything else, Enquist will miss
"Stacey is almost a part of the coaching staff and
that's the ultimate compliment," Enquist said. "I
trust her opinions and have a tremendous amount of
respect for her. She never forgets to help her
teammates who are coming up because she knows she had
help to get where she is. She's an icon in her sport."