In 2015, when the Bryant Lady Hornets, under the direction of head coach Julie Long, won the Class 7A State soccer championship, one reason was a freshman defender named Jad’n Nichols. Now, one of the few players remaining from that team, Nichols is a senior, a leader and still defending to such a degree someone called her “The Great Wall of Jad’n”.
“She truly is a phenomenal defender,” said Long. “I could look at Jad’n and say, ‘Jad’n, I don’t want that person to touch the ball. She might not get that all the way done but they weren’t getting by her, I guarantee you. They might touch it, but they weren’t getting around her.”
Colleges noticed, and, on Friday, Nichols, the daughter of Cory and Nikki Nichols, signed a letter of intent to continue her education and soccer career next fall at Harding University in Searcy.
“I considered Williams Baptist, UCA and other places,” she said. “There was no place like Harding.”
“It was mostly Coach (Greg) Harris,” Nichols related. “He helped me. It was more than soccer with him. He wanted to help build my faith with God and he wanted to help me grow as a woman. So, it was a no-brainer for me. It felt like home when I went for my visit. And it was a lot more than soccer for me.”
Long (now Mrs. Parker), who took the job of assistant principal at the high school last year, asserted, “One thing that makes her great is truly her personality. She’s going to be a phenomenal asset to Harding University and their soccer program.”
New head coach Nicole Inman added of Nichols, “Last year, I had the opportunity to come up and help with the soccer team. And when the (head-coaching) position opened up, she was one of the reasons I decided to do this. She such a great person, one of my favorite in the world.”
“I started playing when I was around 5 or 6,” Nichols related. “My dad wanted me to play basketball, but he was so hard on my sister, I was like ‘I don’t want any of that.’ So, they found me a place to play (soccer) and I went to practice, and all these coaches helped me. I played year ‘round.”
Inman related, “When we talked about who’s had a great impact on her life, she mentioned specifically her dad. Her dad has done a lot for her. He’s helped her to become the athlete and the person she is today. It’s really great to have parents to encourage you, to challenge you, to push you and help you be the person that you are.”
Nichols also played volleyball and that’s where she first came into contact with Long, who was the freshman volleyball coach at the time. She told the coach about her ability to play soccer and, though somewhat skeptical, Long invited her to try out and, immediately, she knew Nichols would be good.
“I guess my favorite story about Jad’n has to be, we had just won the State championship game and I’m walking across the field and Jad’n is just bawling,” Long said. “She was like (sobbing), like she can’t breathe. I said, ‘Jad’n, what’s wrong?’ I’m thinking something is seriously wrong and she’s ‘I’m just so happy it’s over.’ And we had just won the State championship. But that was how hard she had worked in that game. She had put every ounce of energy into that game. It took everything out of her.”
“What I love most about soccer is the contact, like how physical I can be,” Nichols said. “I can get all the aggression out.”
“She does one thing that a defender has the hardest time remembering to do,” Long mentioned. “Everybody thinks that once (the ball) gets all the way to your keeper, you’re done. But this girl — I can’t tell you how many goals she’s saved off the goal line. When that keeper went out and I would look up and, every time, Jad’n Nichols is in that goal.
“And that’s something that’s so hard to get somebody to remember,” she continued. “So, not only when that ball did get past her, she took the next step to get in behind the keeper once they went out to go get the ball. I bet she saved five goals in the Bentonville game the last year that I coached (2016) when we got to the semifinals.”
And where’d she learn that? “Coach Long did and Whitney Brown,” Nichols said, referencing a former teammate. “Whitney helped me a lot my freshman and sophomore years.”
“I jotted down a few words that make me think about Jad’n,” Inman said. “The first word was leadership. This year, her team voted her as one of the team captains and everyone voted for her. It’s because she exemplifies what leadership is by working really hard and by being there for her teammates and doing the things that she needs to be doing.
“There are times, she’ll come up after lunch wanting to know what we’re doing that day at practice,” the coach continued. “Sometimes I choose to tell her. Sometimes I don’t. But when I tell her something that I know she’s not really going to like, it’s ‘I don’t want to do that,’ or ‘I really don’t feel like running 120’s today. I don’t really want to do it.’ But, by the time she gets down there, it’s like ‘All right, let’s do this. Let’s get this over with.’ So, she leads by example, by pushing herself really hard and encouraging her teammates to do the best that they can.
“Second, I wrote down, her drive,” Inman added. “I call her Arkansas, she doesn’t know what a good player she is, and she doesn’t really realize that she could’ve gone anywhere. So, Harding is super blessed to have her. So, I call her Arkansas just to motivate her a little bit. But she’s got this huge drive.
“The third thing is that she’s just a fun-loving personality,” she said. “I told her I would feel so good if she would come to my house, while I’m loading the dishwasher because, the things that she says, I would feel so good about myself as I loaded the dishwasher.
“I’m super-excited just to see her develop as a player in college, to see what she’s going to do,” Inman concluded. “She is going to go on that campus and, from day one on that team, is going to make a huge impact. She’s not going to be sitting on the bench. She’s going to be a serious contender to play as a freshman.”
Asked about the upcoming season, which begins Tuesday against Little Rock Hall, Nichols said, “I think we’re going to win conference and win a State championship. We’re going to do really good this year. Coach Inman, she has faith in us. She told me. It’s like, ‘Jad’n, I’m going to get you a State championship this year.’ So, if she has faith, I have faith.”