Some people set out to get noticed. Others can’t help but stand out. Alicia Armstrong has always stood out.
“Athletically, she was leaps and bounds ahead of most of the people on the field with her,” Head Coach Rhonda Revelle said. “You saw a clear distinction.”
Despite her talent, athleticism and drive, Armstrong was lightly recruited compared to many of her peers. There were several reasons for that but none of them had anything to do with Armstrong’s abilities. One factor was Armstrong competed in multiple sports, earning all-state honors in softball, basketball and soccer as a senior for Beatrice High School. Another factor was the recruiting attention Armstrong received on the basketball court. But probably more than anything, Armstrong flew under the radar of most college coaches because she didn’t compete in the exposure and showcase tournaments that have become required attendance for nearly all softball recruits.
Luckily for Revelle and Nebraska, Armstrong’s softball skills were on display every fall just 50 minutes south of Lincoln.
“All you had to do is watch her once to know you wanted her on your team,” Revelle said. “You saw all the intangibles, the things you can’t coach. But you also saw an athlete that still had such room to grow in softball skills that you thought, ‘oh my gosh, you put all this together, who knows how good she can be.’”
Even though she dreamed of one day being a Husker – in any sport – Armstrong had no idea Nebraska’s softball coaches were paying her any attention.
“I first saw Coach Revelle and Coach Miller in the stands my sophomore year,” Armstrong said. “I always thought they were there to watch someone else until my high school coach asked if I wanted to give Coach Revelle a call.”
For Armstrong, she could think of nothing better than becoming a Husker.
“I was born and raised here and to be a Husker fan because my dad played football here, too. I knew I wanted to play here since I was little,” she said. “Once I came on my unofficial visit, seeing all the things Nebraska could offer and how great the team and coaches were made it an easy decision I made that same day.”
The Bonds of Sisterhood
Armstrong didn’t necessarily pick up a softball dreaming of one day becoming a Husker. Sure, as a Nebraska native with a father who played for the Husker football team, Armstrong grew up rooting for the Big Red and dreamed of one day wearing the scarlet and cream. But that’s not why she first picked up the sport. Armstrong’s love for softball grew from her love for her sister, Adria.
Adria is eight years older than Alicia, the youngest of the three Armstrong children. Alicia would often emulate her older sister around the Armstrong household. She always wanted to be around her big sister and always wanted to do whatever her big sister was doing. That included softball.
“I wanted to be just like her,” Alicia said. “I started playing softball because my sister played.”
Armstrong remembers looking up to Adria and her teammates, going so far as to memorize every player’s batting stance. She also remembers helping Adria practice.
“My sister would put pillows in my shirt, sliders on my legs and a helmet on me, and I would go be her catcher in the backyard,” she said.
From her early days as a bundled-up backstop for her big sister, Armstrong’s love for the game grew. She ditched the catching gear for a spot in the middle infield, where her natural athleticism was on full display. Armstrong emerged as one of Nebraska’s best high school softball players at Beatrice. She hit .690 in her senior season, smashing the state record by .095. Armstrong ended her career with a state record .514 career batting average. She also set Class B state record for career runs scored (153) and tied the Class B career home run record (20).
A four-time all-state softball player, Armstrong had come a long way from that little girl who caught for her older sister. But Adria still plays a big role in Alicia’s softball life.
“The biggest person who deserves recognition for helping me get here is my sister, because she was the one who made me want to play in the first place,” Alicia said. “She helped me live out my longest dream, which was to become a Husker. She is my go-to person if I need to talk to someone about softball.”
A Fantastic Freshman Season
Armstrong talked a lot about softball in her freshman season at Nebraska, when she focused solely on the sport for the first time in her life. The results were outstanding as Armstrong was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in addition to being selected as the shortstop on the Big Ten All-Defensive team. She was one of only five players in 2013 selected to an All-Big Ten team and the Big Ten All-Defensive team.
Armstrong batted .346 in her freshman season, slugging 10 doubles and four home runs, while driving in 19. She led Nebraska in hits (62) and average, joining three-time All-Americans Ali Viola and Jennifer Lizama and two-time All-American Tobin Echo-Hawk as the only Husker freshmen to lead NU in both categories. Armstrong is also one of six players in school history to post Nebraska’s best batting average as a freshman, and each of those first five Huskers went on to All-America careers.
Armstrong credits her work ethic as the reason she was able to immediately succeed as a freshman.
“I had high goals for myself, so in order to have met them, I had to do a lot of individual work by myself to work on the skills I recently developed,” she said. “I didn’t feel pressure to be a key contributor as a freshman because as the year went on, I gained more confidence and wanted to be in that role.”
As good as her offensive numbers were, most observers first noticed Armstrong for her defense. Staying true to her name, Armstrong does indeed possess a strong arm, in addition to displaying great range and athleticism. She posted a .953 fielding percentage as a freshman, the second-best mark by a shortstop in school history. Her range allowed her to field 258 balls at short, a Nebraska position record. More impressively, Armstrong played a key role in the Huskers turning a nation-leading 49 doubles plays in 2013, the third-highest total in NCAA history.
“My favorite part about shortstop is it allows me to use my athletic ability,” Armstrong said. “It allows me to use my reaction time with slappers and my range with hitters. I’m in my own zone when it comes to defense where I’m just tunneled in to where the ball is at.”
Perhaps the best compliment that can be given to Armstrong’s defensive work is that her coaches and teammates believe she will field any ball hit in her direction.
“With Alicia, you just have the confidence in her that if the ball is near her, she’s going to get to it and make an out,” Revelle said. “It starts with her competitive drive, it continues with her pride in being a Husker and then her athleticism kicks in. Those other things really drive her and allow her athleticism to shine.”
Armstrong shined brightest while playing a leading role in Nebraska advancing to the Women’s College World Series for the seventh time in program history last season. Armstrong hit safely in all eight of Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament games, posting a .429 average with one double, one homer, five RBIs and five runs scored. She led NU in hits, average and slugging percentage (.571) in the postseason.
Revelle isn’t sure what Armstrong’s leading driving force is – the talent, the athleticism, the drive, the passion for being a Husker – but she is certain that the mix of those ingredients make for one outstanding player.
“Alicia is just an awesome blend of somebody that has the talent but also has the will to succeed at the highest level.”
In other words, Armstrong is a standout in every sense of the word.
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Alicia
1) She eats with her left hand.
2) Sometimes she throws off the wrong foot.
3) She entered high school at 5-3 and graduated at 5-10.