By Ryan Lineaweaver – F&M Athletic Communications
The Franklin & Marshall scholar-athlete profile features a Diplomat, past or present, who personifies what it means to be an NCAA student-athlete. The F&M campus has always been filled with dedicated, passionate, and talented student-athletes who have interesting stories to tell – and it's our goal to let those stories be heard. To be featured, an F&M scholar-athlete must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership, and community service, or have a noteworthy story that stretches beyond the realm of athletic competition.
To view previous scholar-athletes, click here.
"Great game!! You had such an incredible career and were an incredible captain! So happy we got to share this weekend!!! Congrats to your team!"
Not the usual text message you would expect to get from a Middlebury player who just beat you in the national championship, let alone the two-time reigning Division III National Field Hockey Player of the Year. But then again, these were unusual circumstances, and this was not your usual rival player. This was a text from your younger sister, Erin.
For Franklin & Marshall field hockey's senior captain Michaela Nicholas '20, playing your sister in the biggest game of your collegiate career had become a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Michaela's Franklin & Marshall squad and Erin's Middlebury team just met for the second time in three seasons in the NCAA DIII Field Hockey Final Four.
This year, and for the last time, it happened in the national championship.
Adversity Blossoms into Leadership
One would think that the odds are slim for two siblings to meet on opposing teams in a national championship. But dig a little deeper, and you'll find that Michaela's path to this moment with her sister is steeped in hard work and family.
Michaela wasn't even recruited to play field hockey at Franklin & Marshall. She decided to walk on to the team during her first year on campus. It's a running joke in her family that she "followed" her twin brother, Stephen, to Franklin & Marshall after he had committed to play football for the Diplomats. After all, he was the one recruited to play in Lancaster - Michaela was a tag-along.
The daily grind of proving you belong on the team in the first place made Michaela a uniquely qualified leader of this Diplomat team. But the grind didn't always show itself on the field, where she saw limited minutes.
Over her four years at F&M, Michaela proved to be one of those indisposable "glue" players that all teams rave about. She was the kind of player who contributes more to the friendships and atmosphere off the field than the goals on the field.
"I believe that walking on to the team gave me a unique perspective," said Michaela. "It made me appreciate being a part of the team, as I knew how many people would've loved to be in my position.
"Each person on a team has a special and unique role. Since mine was more of a role off the field, I fully embraced that. I made sure everyone knew whether on the field or not, they played a crucial role. I truly think that every person on my team is a leader."
That type of off-field leadership didn't go unnoticed by her teammates or coaching staff.
"Michaela is one of the best leaders I've ever coached," said F&M head coach Kaitlyn Eager. "She's always smiling, always in a good mood, and always there to cheer up her teammates."
It Runs In the Family
Michaela's family also played a significant role in setting the stage for this memorable national championship.
The Nicholas family has a rich history that's steeped in athletics.
Michaela's grandfather, James, invented the first anterior cruciate ligament knee brace and was the doctor for the New York Jets. He's largely credited for extending the career of Joe Namath - a player whose knee brace was so iconic, it sits on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Her father, Stephen Sr., played football and baseball at Harvard and is the director of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma - the first hospital-based facility dedicated to the study of sports medicine in the world.
Michaela's mother, Eileen, grew up a surfer and played softball and basketball in high school.
Her older brother, James, was Ivy League Golfer of the Year and captained Yale's team. After also playing a season of football at Yale and occasionally skating with the club hockey team, he now has made golf his full-time profession after college. He currently holds his Korn Ferry Tour card - which is a developmental tour and has been the primary pathway for those seeking to earn their PGA Tour card.
Stephen was recruited to F&M to play football, and now is a two-time captain of the golf team. When he's not golfing, he's also playing club ice hockey for the Diplomats.
Younger brother Brian? The 14-year old is arguably the "best athlete" in the family, according to Michaela. He's a blossoming ice hockey star in New York.
And Erin stands as the most decorated athlete in the family, as she won DIII National Player of the Year for field hockey in 2018 and 2019, and was named a DIII All-American in lacrosse last spring.
Sure, having great Nicholas genes helped Michaela in her path from walk-on to team leader on an F&M squad that reached the title game. But it was her relationship with Erin that pushed both sisters to be the best field hockey players they could be.
The two sisters who started playing field hockey together as children became each other's motivation.
"Erin is my best friend, and although she's younger than me, I look up to her a lot," said Michaela. "We train together and go to our high school turf almost every day in the summer. Being at the championship game together was amazing, especially because we worked so hard and pushed one another to be there."
While the leadership shown by Michaela on Franklin & Marshall's field hockey team helped push the program to new heights, that same leadership will soon pay dividends for others outside of the Lancaster community.
The senior plans on graduating in the spring with a psychology and sociology double major.
After graduation, she plans on taking part in Teach for America - a program that finds promising leaders to teach for two years in a low-income, under-resourced public school.
Following those two years, Michaela plans on getting her master's degree in social work, and possibly get her doctorate in psychology.
"I've always felt passionate about working with kids, so I decided I wanted to pursue a career where I can help others and be surrounded by children."
Time to Reflect
Thanksgiving this year landed just days after the national championship, where Middlebury was crowned with its third title in as many years. The Nicholas family gathered at their family home in Scarsdale, N.Y. for a large meal and annual ice hockey game on their backyard ice rink.
Mom and Dad had firmly tucked away their custom-made half-Middlebury, half-Franklin & Marshall gear in the closet, worn for the second and final time.
Outside of some gentle ribbing at dinner about the title game going in Erin's favor, all was well in the Nicholas household. The sisters had quality time to reflect on their experience that was supposed to be once-in-a-lifetime.
Michaela's reflection was, as usual, never on her accomplishments, but her team and her sister's.
"Coach Eager reminds us, playing Franklin & Marshall field hockey is a privilege, and I will always remember that," said Michaela. "My team consisted of the most amazing coaching staff and hard-working, inspiring teammates. I couldn't have been prouder of them. I couldn't have been more excited to play in the last possible game with them..."
And unsurprisingly, Michaela added, "...and also with my sister."