A field of flowers represents the athletes at Oak Park and River Forest High School, one of the most prestigious athletic schools in the state of Illinois.
In this field, there are flashy and rare flowers that stand taller than the rest.
Rising senior Maeve Nelson is this rare "flower," blossoming in elegant style. As a three-sport athlete at OPRF, Nelson has played a particularly pivotal role in the Huskies winning back-to-back Class 4A softball state championships. She is the engine that's drives the team, and the leader—by example on and off the field—that her teammates have wisely followed.
Nelson delivers the same way Kobe Bryant did on the hardwood: frequently. While Kobe is known historically for his "Mamba Mentality," Nelson could be dubbed, "Maeve Mentality."
Maeve has a fierce mindset, and her "mentality" is the reason why she shows up on the stat sheet almost automatically. She is clutch, competitive and driven—not only by last year's title run, but also by her older sisters and parents, who have paved a path of success that she is motivated to follow.
The Nelson family has excelled athletically at OPRF for several decades. Nelson's parents—Scott Nelson and Ellen Mullarkey—were both decorated athletes during their time at OPRF in the 1980s.
Scott was a standout baseball player for the Huskies as a four-year starter. He was part of many all-conference and all-state teams, proving he was very qualified for the next level. Scott played in the minor league systems for several Major League Baseball teams, and ultimately started his own baseball/softball academy called STRIKES in Bellwood.
Ellen starred in volleyball and basketball at OPRF. Her picture is on the Wall of Fame outside the fieldhouse at the school. She played college volleyball at the University of Iowa.
Nelson's parents have worked tirelessly to ingrain a solid work ethic not only in Maeve but her siblings as well. Older sisters Kiley (University of Illinois volleyball) and Allie (Kansas University volleyball) flourished in sports at OPRF as well and now both play college volleyball.
Maeve is beyond grateful for their guidance along the way.
"Having Kiley and Allie as older sisters has helped me more than I can even try to explain," Nelson said. "They're my best friends. They not only inspire me every day to be my best self, but they have really given me a clear cut path of what it takes to succeed.
Nelson is forever indebted in her sisters. From an early age, she has aspired to be like them.
"Ever since I was younger, I've always wanted to be just like them whether it was reading the same books or climbing on the monkey bars together," Nelson said. "Every choice they've made I have followed because I want to be just like them. Since they made the choice to dedicate themselves to being successful, so did I."
Nelson's success is no secret either. As the anchor of OPRF softball offensively and defensively, she led the team in home runs (12) and RBIs (61) this season. She also hit .514 with 60 runs scored, .603 on-base percentage and .963 slugging percentage.
Nelson credits her sisters for her success.
"Success has come because I'm always trying to catch them since they're a few years older," Nelson said. "I'm ahead of people my age thanks to their example. Aside from athletics, they've given me never-ending support and love. As long as I have their approval, I know I'm doing something right."
While family's approval is evident, the Oak Park community has embraced Nelson as one of the greatest athletes in the history of the school.
She's been the best position player on the two-time reigning state champs, who capped off their glorious 74-3 run the past two seasons with a riveting 1-0 win against Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A final on Saturday in Peoria.
"I've always played up with older people but now that I'm an upperclassman, I've accepted and embraced a leadership role," she said. "My batting average and the plays I make at shortstop aren't as important as the team's success.
"I have been on the team three years now, so I have to take the perspective I have and help out the younger girls. Next season, I hope to further combine my leadership skills and my play on the field to have a great senior year."
Nelson considers her seventh inning triple in last year's championship game and subsequent celebration with her teammates the best moments of her life.
"Playing a great sport for this great school is a privilege," Nelson said. "I love the friendships OPRF softball has given me. I know the girls I've met will be my friends for life. I've learned so much about myself from my experience at this school and from my teammates."
Nelson grew up playing softball with her teammates.
"Last year's team was really special because I grew up with everyone on the team," said Nelson. "When we were ten-years-old, our parents talked about the stacked lineup we would have in high school in the future. I achieved a lifelong dream by winning a state championship with my best friends. That feeling is something that can't be explained.
"This years' roster is similar to last year," Nelson added. "We get along very well and have fun together. We have an unreal amount of talent with girls that know what it takes to win."
"Maeve Mentality" allowed Nelson to rope that triple into the outfield last year.
"Hard work really does pay off when you need it to," Nelson said. "When I tied up the game last year, I felt like all of the hours I put into softball were for moments like that one."
With two state championships under her belt, Nelson is not finished. Along with key players like Fiona Girardot, Olivia Glass, Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale and Taylor Divello, Nelson returns next season for a run at a "three-peat."
Whether OPRF can win another state title next season, Nelson's "Maeve Mentality" will assuredly be in full effect.
Answer Book 2017
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.
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