RENO - The opportunity was there, and Kaycee Wilcks seized it.
Wilcks, who helped Douglas High to a second-place state finish last season, was slated to see mostly pinch-running and defensive assignements when Nevada's softball season started.
When one of the Pack outfielders struggled in the early going, Nevada coach Michelle Gardner gave Wilcks an opportunity in center field, and it's been nearly impossible to get her off the field since, though she has been the Pack's designated player of late.
The left-handed hitting Wilcks, one of the fastest runners on the Wolf Pack softball team, has played in 29 (28 starts) of Nevada's 33 games. She is hitting .272, fifth-best on the team, and her 21 hits also is fifth-best on the squad.
"Things are going really good," Wilcks said after a recent two-hit performance in an 8-7 loss to Pacific. "I'm enjoying everything about being here.
"I'm playing a ton more than I thought. In the fall, I didn't play much. The first tournament of the season I didn't really play much. I stepped up when coach gave me a chance."
And how. Wilcks brings to the game what softball coaches crave - speed. Any ball she puts on the ground, she has an outstanding chance to beat it out. A tool like that is hard to resist, and Gardner didn't for long.
"When I first put her out there (in center), she struggled somewhat on defense," Gardner said. "Offensively, she's in the top five in average and the top five in hits. Because of that, I had to find a way to have her in the game.
"She's got this speed. It's a matter of using it the best way."
That means slapping the ball and bunting the ball. The majority of Wilcks' hits have been by those two means.
"I hardly practice bunting at all," Wilcks said. "At practice we work on slapping a little bit. When we hit before a game I'll work on it (bunting) a little bit on my own."
Although Wilcks was used to playing defense during her high school days, she enjoys her offensive-only role.
"It's not bad," said Wilcks, who has hit safely in three of the Pack's last four games. "I enjoy it. It gives me more time to think about what I need to get done at the plate.
"It's a different kind of pressure. If something goes wrong in the field, you get a chance to redeem yourself at the plate. Being the DP, you don't get a chance to redeem yourself in the field if you don't get the job done at the plate."
Wilcks has batted either first (13 times), second (seven times) or ninth (eight times) during the season, and Gardner freely admits she likes to have fast runners in those spots.
"The one hitter is somebody that gets on base, and Kaycee was on a little roll there," Gardner said. "We put her at the No. 2 spot, and she started to press there. When we moved her to ninth, she started seeing better pitches and it let her get some confidence back."
Indeed. Wilcks' confidence is higher than it's ever been. She raised her average nearly 30 points during the recently concluded Nevada Tournament. She had multi-hit games against Pacific and Utah Valley State en route to being named to the all-tournament team.
"I was extremely nervous (early on)," Wilcks said. "Sometimes I would get to thinking too much and that's not a good thing. I just went out and played. I saw the ball and read the defense. I wasn't thinking that much.
"The pitching hasn't been too bad to get to.They hit their spots a little more than what I saw in high school and they throw faster. It's easier to hit faster pitchers and the ball goes farther."
The only flaw in Wilcks' offensive game is that she has struck out 16 times in 81 at-bats. Gardner admitted she would like to see a better ratio as the season moves along, and as Wilcks gets more comfortable, no doubt that will happen.