By GIB SNYDER III
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
On June 22, Khee Nance graduated from Dunkirk Senior High School, taking her athletic gifts with her.
Khee Nance, above, a member of the Dunkirk Senior High School Class of 2013, will be taking her athletic talents to Mercyhurst, where she has earned a scholarship to play for the softball team.
Nance was a three-sport all-star in volleyball, basketball and softball, and that talent is leading her to play softball at Mercyhurst, a NCAA Division II program.
"That was something that we were both working on," Dunkirk softball coach John Sliwa said of Nance's scholarship to play softball at Mercyhurst. "We were working on Mercyhurst and Niagara and Mercyhurst-North East wanted her. But I think it's going to be a nice opportunity. She's coming into a new coaching situation and I think it'll work out fine for her. It's a good program.
"I hope she does well," Sliwa continued. "I think she will do well and given an opportunity, I know she'll impress people."
Both Sliwa and girls' basketball head coach Sarah Bogardus had Nance for her final two years of high school and both were impressed with what she brought to the table.
"Absolutely," Bogardus said of whether or not it was easier to coach her first year at Dunkirk in 2011-12 with a player like Nance on the team. "I was really nervous entering the season and being so young and not having much experience under my belt. But having a player like Khee kind of takes a lot of the pressure off of you, because she is so athletic and she is so reliable and a natural-born leader."
"I've known Khee for a long time through clinics and stuff like that," Sliwa added. "Last year she grew a lot in the fact that I saw her character come out. She was struggling and she knew it. We talked about it several times, but you never saw it. She just battled through it."
Bogardus thinks Nance may have an opportunity to walk-on at Mercyhurst and play college basketball, while also fulfilling her obligation to the softball team.
"When she was deciding what she wanted to play in college, I know she was really torn between basketball and softball," Bogardus said. "I think, in my conversations with Khee, she always indicated that she doesn't get adrenaline rushes quite like she does when she's playing basketball. I think she just has a love and passion for all sports."
No matter which sport Khee was playing during her high school career, there was one thing her coaches could count on from her - leadership.
"It was a quiet leadership," Sliwa said. "You can look at her like she was our rock, but she wasn't a vocal leader. It's always tough to replace that kind of leadership, but she's been blessed to have played around great kids for her whole career too and that nucleus of kids have helped her."
"We are going to miss Khee immensely," Bogardus added. "Not just for all the ways she impacted the games statistically speaking, but also because of her leadership. She really just took to the team and was a positive influence on everybody. She made everybody around her better and helped the team form a winning mentality."
Nance's winning mentality - and her skills - helped lead the Lady Marauders to their most successful season in recent memory, but on the softball diamond, Nance had an off season at the plate. However, that didn't seem to deter any possible suitors.
"Defensively she held her own," Sliwa said. "Offensively she struggled, but she never let it break her down. She never lost that focus or intensity. She never got frustrated."
As for how her talents will translate to the next level, Sliwa thinks Nance will do just fine.
"It's Division II, but it's a high-level Division II," Sliwa said. "I just don't know at the beginning if she's going to play outfield or shortstop. But, like I told her, so long as you're on the field, it doesn't matter (where you're playing) and if you're hitting the ball, you're going to play."
Of the three sports, both Sliwa and Bogardus believed their sports were Nance's best, but neither could be sure which she would pick.
"That is so hard to say because she is just a stand-out athlete in all three of them," Bogardus said. "But I'm going to be a little selfish and say basketball. With basketball one of the hardest things to come by in an athlete is that natural instinct and Khee definitely had that and I think that's what made her such a competitor and a go-getter on the basketball court. She has that natural instinct and she could decide to take over a game in a second."
Whether or not she plays basketball and softball in college, one thing is for sure, Nance will be missed by her coaches, and the teammates she left behind when the 2013-14 school year begins the first week of September.
"We're definitely going to miss her," Bogardus said. "I know I'm going to miss her and I wish her nothing but the best and I know she's going to go on to do amazing things both academically and athletically."