OTTUMWA — Jim Nickerson can vividly remember seeing his daughter first show her knack for being a clutch shooter.
“Back when she was about seven, she started shooting and winning in the Elks shoot-out,” Nickerson said. “When she was nine, she went to the nationals and got third in the nation. She actually finished tied for first, but lost in sudden death.”
Kelsey Nickerson hasn’t missed too often over the past four years, building a prep career that may have been the best in the history of the Ottumwa girls basketball program. The Bulldogs’ career, single-season and single-game scoring record holder is now set to play NCAA Division II college basketball next season at William Jewell University in Liberty, Mo.
It’s a dream of many high school hoopsters to play on the college level. For Nickerson, it is the achievement of a life-long goal.
“Ever since she was three years old, she’s been dribbling a basketball,” Jim Nickerson said of Kelsey. “She’s always had a goal from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to play basketball. She spent a lot of time in the gym. She spent repetition after repetition shooting the ball.”
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was a little girl,” Nickerson added. “It’s finally come true. I’m happy about it.”
No one can say Nickerson didn’t earn the opportunity to continue her career on to the next level. A starter for the Bulldogs since her freshman season, Nickerson was an all-CIML Metro selection each year, including first-team all-conference and all-district honors her last three seasons.
Nickerson saved her best for last, scoring a school-record 446 points —including a school-record 41-point game against Marshalltown — and left as the program’s top all-time scorer with 1,334 points. The sharp-shooting senior also finished this season as the program’s career (176), single-season (71) and single-game (9) 3-point shooting leader.
“When you watch her play, it’s easy to tell that she’s a top-flight shooter,” Bulldog girls head coach Kevin Patterson said. “The remarkable thing is she’d shoot that way even with every defense geared to stopping her. It got to a point by the end of the season where, if she was squared up with her feet set, I was surprised it didn’t go in.”
Individual success, however, was not nearly as important to Nickerson as the success Ottumwa had as a team. After being a part of a two-win team as freshmen, the senior-laden Bulldogs reeled off an 11-game winning streak on the way to a 15-7 record and a CIML Metro Conference title.
“It was great,” Nickerson said. “Our team really supports each other. We worked hard all summer and accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”
“She would much rather win than score,” Patterson added. “She was already worried about the next game. Sometimes she didn’t know how many points she had. She was just worried about whether or not we won.”
Nickerson heads to a William Jewell program that spent last season in a transitional year after moving from NAIA up to NCAA Division II. The upcoming season will be the first one that the Cardinals will be eligible to qualify for the national tournament, something Nickerson hopes she can contribute to over the next four seasons.
“If I work hard, I can contribute with my shooting,” Nickerson said. “They have great players there and if we all work together, we can do some great things.”
“She fits in great down there,” Patterson added. “They really didn’t shoot the ball very well last year. They’re going to find out just what level of shooter she is.”
Nickerson becomes the latest member of the Bulldogs’ girls basketball team to be signed by a college program, joining teammates Rachel Hinebaugh and Avery Roane in officially inking their letters of intent. With Tara Gott and Ashley Salgado set to sign letters later this week, Nickerson will be remembered for being part of a very talented and close-knit group of teammates that achieved incredible success over a number of years.
“It doesn’t really surprise me,” Nickerson said. “I’m going to miss playing with them, but they’ve all put in their time. We all deserved what we got.”