Stokes' Husker Fire Burns Bright
One taste was enough for Kiki Stokes.
Stokes attended a Husker softball camp when she was in high school, and during an unofficial visit immediately following camp, she committed to being a Husker. She even got an early taste for what her freshman season at Nebraska would be like.“I remember coming to a camp and meeting Hailey Decker,” Stokes said, referring to her current Husker teammate. “We were roommates at the camp, and we instantly became friends. I remember Coach Revelle telling us later if we went to school here that we could be real roommates. It’s so crazy to think that it actually happened.”
Revelle, in her 22nd season as Nebraska’s head coach, remembers Stokes and Decker bonding enough at camp that the roommate discussion came up during Stokes’ unofficial visit following camp.
“Kiki and Hailey came to the same summer camp in high school,” Revelle said. “After the camp concluded, we set up unofficial visits with each of them. I remember saying to each ‘you two have hit it off so well, maybe if you both choose the Huskers you can be real roommates instead of just roommates at camp.’”
While she didn’t ultimately know that she would indeed be matched with Decker as freshmen roommates, Stokes knew where she wanted to play college softball.
“We actually offered her a scholarship on that unofficial visit,” Revelle said. “She practically crawled across my desk and accepted it immediately.”
After waiting a few years to actually take the field for the Huskers, Stokes started 58 games as a freshman, playing a prominent role in helping Nebraska advance to the 2013 Women’s College World Series. She made a team-high 45 starts in center field along with 13 starts in left. Stokes was also NU’s primary leadoff hitter, batting at the top of the order in 39 of Nebraska’s 61 games. Stokes batted .264 as a freshman, drawing 26 walks to help her post a .403 on-base percentage. She added two home runs and stole 13 bases, the sixth-highest freshman total in school history.
Stokes’ freshman season culminated with the realization of a childhood dream.
“Being able to say I made it to the ‘Big Show’ at the WCWS is my greatest achievement because as a kid, it was what I had always wanted to do,” she said.
Stokes took up the sport in kindergarten, and she knew early on that she wanted to play collegiate softball.
“In fourth grade, I knew that softball was what I wanted to do, and I wanted to play in college.”
Her early drive to earn a college scholarship is why Stokes was already attending camps and evaluating potential colleges as a middle school student. While impressed with Nebraska’s facilities, it was Stokes’ connection with the coaches and tradition that made her ultimately decide to become a Husker.
“The best part about being at Nebraska is being able to wake up and say that I’m a part of something bigger than just being an athlete,” she said. “Having a second family and being a part of the University is great. The love the coaches have for me as a person off the field, and how much time they spend making me a better person off the field is what makes them so great.”
Softball Helped Stokes ‘Give Back’ to Her Parents
Stokes appreciates all the Husker coaches do for her, but she’s also quick to point out the sacrifices her parents, Kenny and Odester, made for her. Earning a college scholarship was a personal goal for Kiki not only because she loved the sport and was driven to reach the highest level, but also because she saw it as a way to give back to her parents for all they had done for her.
“When I realized that I was talented enough to play at the next level, I was going to make sure my school was paid for so that I could give back to my parents for all of the money they had spent on me over the years,” she said.
Stokes established herself as worthy of a college scholarship during an outstanding career at Olathe East High School. She played center field and hit leadoff all four years for East, earning second-team All-America honors as a sophomore in 2010 and first-team All-America accolades as a junior in 2011 and again as a senior in 2012. Stokes boasted a .605 career batting average with 181 hits, 63 runs scored and 87 stolen bases. Each of those marks is an Olathe East school record, a notable achievement for a program that has produced more than 40 scholarship athletes at the collegiate level, including four Huskers.
Outside of high school ball, Stokes played for the DeMarini Zephyrs in the summer. Stokes remembers seeing the Husker coaches at many of her games. Revelle liked what she saw from Stokes.
“We were impressed with what Kiki's coaches said about her, her passion for the game and her talent, especially her speed and instinct for the game,” Revelle said. “We knew she fit our culture then, and she continues to shine brighter each and every day.”
Olympian Fueled Stokes’ Fire
Now a scholarship student-athlete and a starter for a Women’s College World Series team, Stokes has followed in the footsteps of a softball legend she grew up watching.
“I looked up to Natasha Watley as a kid because she was another Africa-American who played on the U.S. Olympic softball team,” Stokes said.
Watley was a four-time All-American at UCLA and led the Bruins to three straight Women’s College World Series appearances, culminating with a national championship in 2003, when Watley won the Honda-Broderick Cup as the nation’s top overall female athlete. Like Stokes, Watley was a slapper known for her speed and aggressiveness.
Watley went on to an international and professional career, winning a gold medal with Team USA in 2004 and a silver medal in 2008. Stokes watched Watley on the national team and strived to be just like her. Softball was removed from the Olympics following the 2008 games, so Stokes may not have the opportunity to play for a medal like Watley.
For now, that’s OK by Stokes, as she is focused on her Husker career. With a year of experience under her belt – something often critical for slappers due to the speed of the college game – Stokes has high hopes for herself and for her team this season.
“I want to be a leader this year,” Stokes said. “I want to go back to the Women’s College World Series again.”
Same old Kiki Stokes. Once she gets a taste of something, there’s no stopping her.
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Kiki
1) She dances and does choreography.
2) She has an obsession with Justin Bieber.
3) She is partially deaf in both ears and wears hearing aids.