By RON HOLT
At a time when many high school student-athletes specialize in one sport or play a couple of sports, Bixby High’s talented senior Alyssa Nielsen is an exception.
When school starts in August until school ends in the spring, the 6-0 Nielsen is practicing and competing in three Lady Spartan sports programs. She plays third base for the Lady Spartan softball team in the fall, plays forward for the girls’ basketball team in the winter and serves as the goalkeeper for the Lady Spartan soccer team in the spring.
Obviously, Nielsen has limited free time. Her free time is spent reading and spending time with her siblings – Ashley, a sophomore Lady Spartan volleyball player, and brother Jake, a multi-sport eighth grader. It’s a grind but one Nielsen enjoys.
“I love playing all of them … basketball is my true love but I love helping out in the other sports too,” Nielsen said recently. “Soccer helps me with my jumping since I’m the goal keeper and softball helps me gain more muscle.
“I get stronger in softball, lean in basketball and my lateral movement gets better in soccer. They all help make you a better athlete but the thing I’ve heard from college coaches is that they are anxious to see how I do when I’m concentrating on one sport,” she said.
Nielsen, the daughter of Geoff and Amy Nielsen, is one of four players who have been in Bixby’s starting lineup since they were freshmen. The others are Gracy Wernli, Gentry Baldwin and Meredith Mayes. This foursome led Bixby to back-to-back Class 6A state championship game appearances. The Lady Spartans fell to Norman in the finals when they were sophomores and suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss to Edmond North on a last second field goal in last season’s state title game.
“Last season was definitely tougher because it was a buzzer beater in overtime which was as heartbreaking as you can get,” Nielsen said. “Our sophomore year we were really just happy to be there but last year it was a goal that we knew we needed to reach … we feel the same way this season.”
Accomplishing the goal this season became more challenging early on when Mayes, the team’s leading rebounder and double figure scorer, was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury which required surgery. Bixby continues adjusting to the loss of its 6-3 standout.
“We had to turn around pretty quick to play after Meredith was hurt. It completely disoriented me on the court because I went from playing a short corner post spot to playing the five,” Nielsen noted. “I’ve done it before but it’s an adjustment for me. Meredith did such a great job rebounding that a lot of us are having to take up the slack.
“The younger players like Kate (Wernli), Ama (Musick) and Brynn (Daniel), who is an upperclassman, are stepping up big for us … we’re getting more comfortable. Getting back to state is still a goal even though our team will look a little different.”
While Bixby (11-6) features accurate outside shooting from G. Wernli and Baldwin, Nielsen gives the Lady Spartans a weapon inside with her deadly turnaround jumper. She averaged 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season while also averaging 55.3 percent shooting from the field.
This year she’s averaging 11.9 points per game while increasing her rebound numbers. She hit 19 points in a rout of Oklahoma City Douglass, 17 points at Sand Springs and 16 points against Booker T. Washington for season highs. She’s steadily improved as a player since the early days.
“As far as basketball goes, Kara Wernli, Gracy’s mom, has been my AAU coach since fourth grade. She developed my game … I tried to model my game after the way she played. She’s been a big role model to me on and off the court,” Nielsen said.
“My parents have also been very supportive. My dad taught me the turnaround jumper in eighth grade. He watched Kobe Bryant do it and he loved it. I’ve worked at it a lot, it’s my mid-range game. My sophomore year is when I started getting confidence with it. It’s kind of my go-to thing.”
Anyone watching the Lady Spartans play in recent seasons recognizes Nielsen’s effectiveness scoring in and around the paint.
“She has the best turnaround jump shot in the state, from that 10 to 12-foot range she’s deadly,” Lady Spartan head coach Tina Thomas noted. “That’s a high percentage shot for us. She has that mid-range game.
“She’s a joy to coach because she works hard and is one of those team-first kids. She enjoys making assists – for a post girl that’s unique – as much as she does knocking down shots. She’s just an outstanding young lady who is hugely involved in community service.”
When the season ends, the fantastic foursome will be separated for the first time since they were elementary students.
“I’ve played with Gentry, Meredith and Gracy since like the summer going into the fourth grade, we’ve been on every AAU team together since that time. I’ve been friends with Gentry since kindergarten, we go back forever … I can’t imagine us not living in the same state,” Nielsen noted.
“Being on the court without them will be different, they are like my limbs. I’ve gotten so used to playing with them it’ll be interesting to see how it goes without them. We’ve played together so much we know what each other is doing.”
All four will continue playing collegiate basketball in the future. Nielsen signed with Drury University, Baldwin with Oral Roberts University and G. Wernli and Mayes with Abilene Christian University.
“The coach’s vision for the future really impressed me and the school offers diverse career plans which was important to me since I wanted to go to med school after college,” Nielsen said of her reasons for inking with Drury.
“Drury’s game day atmosphere is like nothing I’ve seen, it’s a really cool atmosphere. It’s really an incredible place.”
While being excited about the future, extending this season to the final game remains the goal of Nielsen and her Lady Spartan teammates.