Nicole Pauly will always be remembered as one of the top athletes in Palatine High School history.
Interestingly enough, area fans never got to see her terrific skills for the final half of her senior basketball season and most of her final softball campaign due to an ACL injury in early January that year.
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"When I look back on that, as hard of an experience as it was, it made me a stronger athlete and person," she said. "It gave me the opportunity to coach. That was my way of helping the softball team my senior year when I was on the bench. As much as I loved playing, I really learned that I loved to be a coach."
Pauly is now returning to that same bench.
She has been named the Pirates varsity softball coach after serving as an assistant in the program this spring.
Veteran Jeff Manz, who was 257-155-2 in 12 seasons with six regional titles and two sectional championship appearances, stepped down from the post to devote more time to his family.
A former professional and Division I collegiate standout, Pauly recently completed her first year at Palatine as a counselor.
"Nicole is a standout athlete, and has been a great addition to our student services team," said Palatine High School principal Gary Steiger. "Athletically, she has left her mark on every program she's been associated with, from her playing days at Palatine, Northwestern, and professionally to her previous coaching experience. We're very excited about the direction our softball program is headed and the mark Nicole will leave here."
Pauly was humbled by those comments.
"I couldn't imagine working for a better boss and person," Pauly said. "Gary is amazing at what he does. He trusts his people that he hires, loves Palatine High School and I'm so excited about the opportunity he and Jerry (Dobbs, athletic director) have given me."
Back in the Mid-Suburban League, Pauly will be face many of the same coaches who she went up against as a player from 2003 to 2006.
An all-area shortstop, she owns the best career batting average in school history (.463).
Pauly was the Daily Herald's all-area honorary captain in 2006.
"This will be a different look," she said with a laugh. "I won't be between the lines anymore but I still want to win just as much as when I played."
She played as well as anyone in school history, earning a scholarship to Northwestern University.
As a four-year starter in Evanston, Pauly had 53 home runs, 168 RBI, 149 runs scored and a .604 slugging percentage in 215 collegiate games.
Pauly has a master's degree in school counseling from Loyola University Chicago and a bachelor's degree from Northwestern.
She played professionally for both the Chicago Bandits and Akron Racers in the National Professional Fastpitch league, earning all-NPF honors with Akron in 2012.
"Honestly, becoming the Palatine head softball coach was always a goal of mine," she said. " I really enjoyed my time as a student at Palatine and being a Pirate has given me so many opportunities. I know I may be a little biased in saying Palatine is one of the best high schools in the area but I think the coaches and teachers that work there are amazing and they have and continue to teach me new things everyday."
That is the same game plan Pauly has for her students and athletes.
"I want to surround the girls with role models and coaches who not only care about them as softball players but care about them as people," she said. "From there, we will develop trust within the program and that is necessary for moving forward and competing at a high level.
"I believe sports are more than just competing on the field. They teach you a lot of life's lessons."
Pauly knows the type of players she wants to develop.
"We want hard working student-athletes that perform in the classroom as well as giving 100 percent effort on the field, have a passion for the game, work within our team and provide leadership skills," she said. "If you develop those types of team foundations and characteristics, it's inevitable you will have a successful team filled with successful student-athletes. Developing life skills with athletics is the most important part of playing sports."
Pauly also played basketball at Palatine. She is the program's career leader in steals and is second in career points.
And she is still a member of the program, serving as the freshman 'B' coach.
"Working under Mark Johnson (varsity coach) has been one of the best experiences for me starting out as a coach last season," Pauly said. "I think he does a phenomenal job and I continue to learn from him on a daily basis."
Pauly said she has taken "positives" from many of her past coaches and made them her own.
"There were so many influential coaches and persons in my life," she said referring to her coaches at Northwestern (Kate and Caryl Drohan), her professional softball coaches and teammates and her high school coaches (Ron Theberge and Manz).
Now she is taking over for Manz, who turned the Pirates program into a winning one the last 12 seasons.
"It's really exciting because it's been a program that has been quite successful in the past and I hope to keep that tradition alive," Pauly said. "Jeff Manz did a great job and definitely left his mark. He coached a lot of phenomenal softball players and I learned a lot from him as a player and as an assistant coach in his program.
"I got extremely lucky to be offered a counseling job at my alma mater and it all kind of worked out from there. I've kept in contact with all my coaches and things just happened."
Pauly's goal of coaching softball at Palatine finally became a reality.
"My experiences were so positive from when I was a student and athlete at Palatine," she said. "I feel so fortunate to work at such an amazing school with great staff, great students, and a great surrounding community.
"I'd like to thank Gary Steiger and Jerry Dobbs for entrusting me with a program that has had success in the past. Softball is a growing sport and a lot of people love the game."
Pauly can't wait to get in the game as a head coach.
"I'm excited to get going," she said. "I've worked with majority of the returning varsity girls over the past year. This is a group of girls that have the grit and grind and will continue to work hard and give their all to the Palatine High School Softball program. I'm really excited about the season."
She will also return as an underlevel girls basketball coach.
"I love basketball, too," she said. "I encourage the girls to be multi-sport athletes. I think that playing on different fields makes you a better athlete in general. I think there are different things you learn in basketball that you can bring to softball and vice versa. And that goes for coaching as well."
And you can bet Pauly will bring a family atmosphere to her new job.
She thanks her own family for getting to this point.
"My family (father Nick, mother Jackie and brother Danny) have been my rock," she said. "Without their love and support I would not be where I am today. My successes have been and will continue to be their successes as well."