Kara Nilan '11 had quite an introduction to collegiate softball pitching. As a first year in her first start, she received a line drive directly to her head, suffering a traumatic brain injury that affected her memory and left her with constant pain and nausea. It ended her season instantly and forced her to take a leave of absence from Bowdoin.
Her sophomore season also ended prematurely. In the first NESCAC series, Nilan fractured her right forearm and was forced to watch the rest of the year from the bench.
This season, Nilan is making up for lost time. In three wins last week, Nilan pitched 27.2 consecutive scoreless innings, striking out 19 and maintaining a 1.72 ERA. Her performance broke the school record for consecutive scoreless innings, a title formerly held by Gina Laugelli '02 (who threw 24.2 in 2001). Nilan was named NESCAC Pitcher of the Week for her stellar play in the circle.
Coach Ryan Sullivan was unsurprised by her accomplishment.
"Kara is an amazing competitor," said Sullivan. "I don't think for a moment that she doubted that she would return and return at a very high level. Obviously Kara has a great amount of ability, but her work ethic is outstanding and she wants the team to do well."
Nilan has established herself as one of the dominant pitchers in the NESCAC. In the conference, she ranks third with a 1.61 ERA and second with a .207 opponents batting average. She also has the most strikeouts of anyone on the team, with 62.
"I love having control of the game and being in every play," Nilan said. "I'm really competitive so I like the one-on-one matchups you get in pitching."
Nilan added that catcher Clare Ronan '10 was a major part of her success.
"Clare and I are always on the same page," she said. "She really knows what works and is great about learning about hitters before the game. She's a smart catcher."
Sullivan noted that Nilan also displayed mental strength.
"I think Kara's poise is very important," he said. "When she is on the mound, seldom does she seem rattled or not in complete control and this is something that her team feeds from as well."
Nilan's abilities extend beyond the pitching circle. She is a force to be reckoned with at the plate. She leads the team with 42 hits, 23 runs and 48 total bases, and is second best with a .362 batting average. Nilan's prowess as a pitcher and hitter go hand-in-hand. As Nilan mentioned, her dual-skill set gives her "a definite conceptual advantage."
Recently, Nilan has also been playing right field and first base in addition to her pitching duties. Her versatile abilities on the softball field are a clear asset to the team. Having played in 33 games thus far this year, she has made a large impact on a Bowdoin team that stands at 25-9 coming into the weekend.
"Kara is one of a kind," said Sullivan. "She has a wonderful spirit and doesn't mind having a different outlook on things. In a very healthy way, she has provided many lighter moments for our team in three years."
The success that Nilan has found at Bowdoin is not without precedent. Her senior year in high school, she was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for softball. The award is given to a single athlete per sport deemed most outstanding in his or her state. Nilan hails from Pittsfield, Mass.
Past accolades, however, are currently far from Nilan's mind. She is focused on helping the Polar Bears to extend their eight-game winning streak and qualify for the NESCAC Tournament. With her impressive play up to this point in the season, Nilan spoke about her plans for final weeks of play.
"I'm trying to stay consistent," she said, "but most of all, I'm trying to stay healthy."