Michelle, whose senior season was slowed by a lingering ankle injury, went right to surgery after the season and is in the next phase of her career this fall, student teaching at Riverlawn Elementary School in Fairlawn. Dean said she played hurt for the final part of the 2012 season and backstopped RU’s run at another Big South Conference championship and post-season appearance with the kind of leadership that only a highly motivated senior catcher can provide.
“It was a good movie with a lousy ending,” said Michelle about the final day (she went 4 for 7, incidentally) of her collegiate softball career. “Somebody’s got to lose to somebody, I guess.”
She closed out her 2012 season with three home runs and 17 RBIs while posting a solid .991 fielding percentage behind the plate and directing RU’s pitching staff, which featured back-to-back conference pitcher of the year and second-team VaSID All-State selection senior Jackie Jenkins. About the aches and pains and injuries that are synonymous with the position of catcher, Michelle said, “It is all part of the job description, and I enjoyed the job.”
During the Bealls’ careers, the wins have by far outnumbered the losses. Both were key contributors to a pair of Big South Championship teams, two NCAA tournament appearances and four Big South Conference regular-season titles. The twins join a list of softball stalwarts like Chelsea Kelley ‘11, national winner of the 2011 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award in softball, and fellow All-Big South alumnae shortstop Kristen Shiflett ‘11 and outfielder Ashley Carlson ‘08, who have helped make RU a state and conference softball force with which to be reckoned.
Nichole dodged the injuries that interrupted Michelle’s senior season, and she started 225 consecutive games since her first game as a Highlander. Nichole is the program’s all-time leader in home runs (52), doubles (53/tie), RBI (158/tie), walks (96), slugging (.686), on-base percentage (.442), total bases (459) and consecutive starts. In her banner season in 2012, Nichole led the Big South Conference in runs (51), doubles (14) and stolen bases (31). She was second in home runs (13), slugging (.698), total bases (111) and on-base percentage (.478).
“We came to a program on the rise, and now other teams look at us differently,” Nichole said. “They know Radford softball now.”
Among the Bealls’ fond memories is a 3-2 win over Florida State in 2010 at the NCAA Regionals in Athens, Ga. RU posted a come-from-behind victory to eliminate Florida State, then ranked No. 24, and advance to the regional final, where the Highlanders finally succumbed to national powerhouse Georgia.
“It had all the elements—a beautiful day, a great stadium, a loud crowd and intensity,” Nichole said.
Reflecting on their four-year career, the Bealls were lavish in sharing credit for their success. About the guidance and leadership of their head coach, Michelle said, “He taught us that when you see yourself as successful, you can develop long-term success across the board—academically, socially, athletically—and that success breeds success.”
Another source of their success to which both nodded was their family.
“What keeps the fire burning for me is the way we were raised,” Nichole said. “Our parents instilled in us a drive to be the best, to want to come out on top.”
Michelle added, “They were always there and took time to see us and support us.”
The family gathered in December at RU’s 2012 Winter Commencement when Michelle graduated with her degree in elementary education. Nichole graduated with a degree in exercise, sport and health education in May 2012. The winter event served as the official family celebration of their academic and athletic success.
“Radford has given me so much,” Nichole said, “an education that has prepared me for the future, friends and faculty who have helped me reach beyond, and four years to play the game I love.”
Both Bealls anticipate working with young people in their careers and sharing the energy and drive that made them successful athletes. Nichole hopes to be a college softball coach and Michelle is a teacher.
“When I talk to kids about Radford,” Michelle said, “I will always tell them it is a great place and that I hope it will be as good to them as it was to me.”