Boissevain’s Danika Nell was recently named one of the twenty-five athletes who will participate in a U19 Women’s National Team selection camp from August 8-12 in Surrey, B.C..
Danika started playing softball as a 6 year old for the Boissevain Mites team, her family’s hometown since moving there from South Africa in 1998. She always watched her older sister Anja pitch and play first base and started to work with her in the backyard. It was very evident from the beginning that pitching came easy to her and she started to watch videos of the American Olympian, Jenny Finch for hours at a time, teaching herself how to throw just like like that.
Her first break came when she made the Westman Magic u12 team as an 11 year old. Having had a successful season with Boissevain and winning Provincials, coach Shane Black saw her potential and offered her a spot on his team . Magic had a dominant season and won Provincials in what is now called the AAA division, beating out favourites , Smitty’s Terminators. Danika or “Nelly” as her softball friends call her, carried a lot of the pitching duties and also developed on shortstop.
The following year she age advanced and joined the Magic u14 squad as a 12 year old where her pitching skills were tested against much older batters. This time around she played shortstop and outfield as secondary positions and as a result of her being able to be a utility player, she was invited to the Canadian National Championship with Smitty’s Terminators from Winnipeg. The team won a silver medal and was awarded Team of the Year at the annual Softball Manitoba awards ceremony in 2018.
The year 2019 was very eventful: Danika played for coach Kayla Alexander in Brandon and their Wetman Magic u14 team won Provincials. She also decided to try out for Team Manitoba u16. This was a big jump, since she was only 13 and knew she would have to play her very best to be considered. She did just that and at the tryouts she impressed coach Holly Kitchen as a batter and a pitcher. She joined the shortlist and went to Kansas City where she recorded the most strike outs on the team and hit two homeruns over the fence. Coach Kitchen offered her a spot on the team, but the decision was a tough one, since her Magic team was headed to Nationals, and the Western Canadian Championship, with Team Toba, coincided with Nationals. The decision was made by both parties to accept the position of AP, joining the team playing as many exhibition games as possible but to focus on Nationals. Magic ended in 5th place at this prestigious event but Danika ended up being selected best u14 pitcher by Softball Canada. She was also selected as top u14 player by Softball MB in the same year.
Danika developed her game by attending the Softball Academy in Winnipeg and attending clinics in Fargo, North Dakota. She worked on her velocity and learning new pitches. At u16 level, coach Asham trusted Danika with a lot of the pitching duties, which prepared her for her next big test, trying out for Team Manitoba u18 which would go to the Canada Summer Games in Niagara in August of 2021. Her tryout was very successful, she made the team as a 14 year old, but then everything came to a standstill when the world was hit by Covid. The Summer Games got postponed to 2022, the eligible age got pushed up to u19 to give the players who made all the provincial teams as senior players a chance to still compete and the waiting game started. Through it all Danika worked out in the gym adding more muscle to her 6ft frame and stayed positive , hoping to play again soon.
She got contacted by a team out of Nebraska to play travel ball with them in April of this year. Travel was not easy due to Covid restrictions and she had to quarantine upon returning but with the blessing of Magic Coach Kayla Alexander, she traveled with her mom to Iowa to train with the American players. She hurt her foot before she left, practicing on a cement floor of a farm shop during a Covid outbreak in Boissevain. The school gym was closed and it unexpectedly snowed, leaving the diamonds wet and muddy, so the only place available to keep up practice was the farm shop.
The hard surface caused a stress fracture in her push off foot and at the time of departure she thought it was only a minor bruise and it didn’t bother her too much. She played in a tournament in Des Moines, Iowa and in a second tournament in Omaha, Nebraska. At this point she had a lot of pain and knew something was wrong. The tournaments were amazing, she gained valuable experience and faced some great batters, also learning a lot about mental preparation and the use of arm bands to get signaled by the coaches what pitches to throw.
Upon return her dad, Dr Meyer Nell, immediately put her in a walking boot. She completed quarantine and got a bone scan which confirmed that it indeed was a stress fracture and that she’d be out for 6-8 weeks. Things got shut down again in the province after another Covid wave, but she had two tournaments in Colorado to look forward to end of June. She didn’t have a big enough time frame to fully recover and she could feel that her injury wasn’t completely healed when she tried pitching middle of June. It was very disappointing letting the coaches in the US know that she would not be able to attend, but it was the best decision at the time, putting her health first.
She returned to the mound for Magic on July 7th and was relieved that she felt no more pain, Then came along two amazing opportunities to play in tournaments in the US: the Kansas City World Fastpitch u16 Championship with Nebraska Gold Nation team, 93 teams in attendance and the week after that the Alliance Fastpitch National u19 championship in Oklahoma City with a team out of California, the Orange County Batbusters. She helped the Nebraska team win a bronze medal and had a blast facing teams from all over the US. The Alliance tournament was a very high end tournament with only invited teams attending and the quality of ball was outstanding. Danika was thrilled to see the Oklahoma City Hall of Fame stadium, home of the Sooners, current NCAA Division one champions. She got to pitch her first game there and will never forget the experience! While in Oklahoma, Danika was very lucky to work with the Batbuster pitching coach, Justin Siegel, who taught her a tremendous amount about all aspects of pitching as well as adding a screw ball to her arsenal and working on her curve ball.
Because Danika was in Oklahoma during the tryout date for the Junior National Women’s u19 Team in Winnipeg in July 26th, she found out that players could attend any of the 6 camps throughout Canada and registered for the tryout in Montreal on August 2nd. With mom Karen, she flew back into Montreal after the Oklahoma tournament and tried out with players from Quebec she has never met before. She found out she was one of 25 successful candidates after getting a phone call from head coach Melissa Finley. Currently she is in Surrey, BC for the final selection camp Aug 8-12. This is a big challenge because as a 15 year old she’ll be up against returning players, some of them 19 years old. The final team will compete in Lima, Peru, the actual date is still to be determined but it looks like it will be in December of this year. She has always loved a good battle and whatever the outcome, her future is certainly bright and she brings joy to the mound playing the sport she loves so much.