“Maintain on, are you able to give me 5 minutes? I’m signing balls.”
Throughout a Topeka summer time, sophomore pitcher NiJaree Canady was at her aunt’s home, internet hosting an impromptu motivational session for her cousin’s 14U baseball crew. She had agreed to an interview half-hour prior, however had gotten held up by youngsters desperate to obtain knowledge from Stanford’s ace pitcher.
The session ended, however the children wished autographs — one thing she has gotten used to. She needed to begin working towards her signature. (It was horrible, she mentioned.)
The 2023 Ladies’s Faculty World Sequence completed with a powerful proclamation to the softball world — Canady is a celebrity, and he or she is simply getting began. In solely her first season of faculty softball, she led the nation in earned run common (ERA) and strikeouts per seven innings, a feat by no means earlier than seen from a first-year participant.
With a Freshman of the Yr award in tow, Canady additionally led the Stanford Cardinal into the primary WCWS berth in practically a decade, and went toe-to-toe with the transfer-laden behemoth Oklahoma.
It’s not absurd to name her a prodigy. However when she began out?
“For the primary couple of years, I can’t keep in mind being that good,” Canady mentioned. “I simply had no accuracy in any way.”
Canady didn’t begin her diamond days on high of the mound however fairly behind the plate — she was the beginning catcher on the native baseball crew. Spurred on by her soccer coach, Canady enlisted alongside her brother BJ Canady, two years her junior.
Sure, that’s proper. Baseball crew. Soccer coach.
Canady’s father, Bruce Canady, took a no-holds-barred strategy towards his kids’s athletic endeavors. A former school soccer participant at Washburn College, he handed all the way down to and nourished a love of sports activities in Canady and BJ.
“I hit a house run off her riseball as soon as,” BJ Canady was desperate to level out.
This drive didn’t come from simply anyplace — Bruce Canady is each the mastermind and the motor behind the Canady children.
From giving six-year-old Canady and four-year-old BJ Canady the smackdown at Join 4, to pitting them towards one another in each attainable setting, Bruce Canady ensured his kids had a aggressive edge.
“They will’t play checkers collectively. I don’t know the place they get it from” he mentioned. Katherine Canady, Bruce’s spouse and the kids’s mom, was fast to interject: “Oh, I do know. You must hear them once they play cornhole.”
In line with Katherine Canady, “Bruce nonetheless practices outdoors to ensure they’ll’t beat him.”
This aggressive spirit finally led Canady to softball, and he or she opted to play with the Topeka Queens — the place she as soon as performed a unique sport on the identical subject. Whereas she loved each baseball and softball, the six-foot pitcher finally selected to pursue softball full-time.
Her most well-liked place was catcher till an older pitcher caught her eye at a neighborhood event. Her dad requested if she wished to be a pitcher. It appears enjoyable, she replied.
So her dad bought her a pink rubber ball, and of their basement she pitched, pitched and pitched some extra.
Her catching days continued for a while, and he or she was a phenom. However when Canady caught and hit house runs like a celebrity at one event and her associate on the mound obtained MVP as a substitute, she determined to modify positions. She simply couldn’t stand not being acknowledged for her play.
Canady’s tutelage steadily moved past the storage, and he or she started taking classes with Roxy Moran, a non-public pitching coach in Topeka. By the top of their first session, Moran had sensed one thing particular.
“If she sticks with this softball factor, they’ll discuss her for a protracted, very long time,” Moran mentioned.
Moran, a former pitcher at California State College, Fullerton, might envision her street to success.
“After I first bought her, she was bodily sturdy,” Moran mentioned. “She relied on her energy, and I mentioned, that’s not going away. We’re solely going to construct on that. However the day we will be taught the spin and the fluidity of the pitch… When she actually developed that, that’s when she turned subsequent degree.”
A self-proclaimed instructor by really feel, Moran carried out all kinds of strategies involving psychological preparation (together with pitching blind) and made up phrases to instruct a pitch. Her riseball analogy: “Like scooping sand and tucking it over the shoulder.”
She labored with Canady to construct her pitching repertoire, including a curveball right here and screwball there. Canady, who Moran described as not solely a fast examine but additionally an unusually pushed athlete, improved quickly.
What additionally contributed to her development was journey ball. Since eighth grade, Canady performed on the 18U circuit for the Louisville Woman Sluggers — the most effective crew within the nation.
As an eighth grader, nonetheless, she was over matched. The opposing pitchers’ riseballs would stoop beneath her shins to above her head. Her regular fastballs weren’t strikeouts.
“Again then, I simply wished to play my age. I wished to hit the ball on a regular basis. However trying again on it, I believe I did so good as a result of I used to be taking part in towards older women. It pressured me to get good quick,” Canady mentioned.
In her first season with the Sluggers, Canady was put in all kinds of various age brackets, from 14U to 16U to 18U, in an effort to construct up her confidence.
“NiJa would play with us in a single recreation, then I might shove her all the way down to the 16U crew … to get a bunch of seems,” mentioned Jim Huecker, coach of the Woman Sluggers. “She’d play, then they’d transfer her again up … Gosh dang, I believe the child performed 11 video games in a single weekend.”
Regardless of Canady’s preliminary needs, her aggressive spirit received out. After a couple of weeks of the back-and-forth switching, Huecker advised Canady to go from the 18U recreation to play with the 16U crew. She refused: “Coach, I don’t wish to go down there. That is my crew.”
And that was it. “We by no means seemed again after that,” Huecker mentioned.
Canady, who grew after annually of competitors towards the older women, lastly felt the hole shut. By sophomore yr, these riseballs weren’t practically as excessive. These fastballs — and the whole lot else Moran taught her — had been putting out.
However of all NiJa’s pitches, her riseball was probably the most dominant. A pitch that, if issues went her method freshman yr, would’ve by no means been in her pitching arsenal.
“I used to be so over it,” NiJa mentioned.
She had been working towards for 9 months, thrice every week, 45 minutes a day, and he or she by no means even bought shut. Moran, who had bother with the riseball herself as a pitcher, didn’t have a unusual analogy on deck this time.
On month 9, NiJa requested Moran if she might simply depend on her different pitches. She was dominating different women with out the riseball, and had different sturdy pitches in her disposal — sturdy sufficient to earn her D1 provides from native colleges like KU and Mizzou.
However Moran responded: “How good do you wanna be?”
Two weeks later, Canady bought it, placing a lot spin on the ball that it rose over her dad’s head — flying, ascending to a spot he simply couldn’t attain.
The final two years of highschool had been nothing in need of spectacular for Canady. She received MVP of a regional event as a junior, and led her highschool to their first state championship after which a second throughout her junior and senior yr, tallying just one loss throughout that point.
“I knew early on I wished to be on the most important stage. I wished to be among the best pitchers within the nation,” Canady mentioned. “It wasn’t like an expectation of mine, but when I didn’t get there I knew how dissatisfied I might be.”
As she toiled away below Moran’s tutelage, she reminded herself: “If I pitch like this, I’m not making the World Sequence.”
What precisely drove her? She doesn’t know. “I simply wished to do one thing nice,” she mentioned.
Canady got here into Stanford because the eleventh ranked participant within the nation — however pitching coach Tori Nyberg knew that she was vital participant. A lot in order that she attended practically all of Canady’s video games. It bought to the purpose the place when dad and mom noticed Nyberg, they might joke, “Right here comes the stalker once more.”
Due to the efforts of Nyberg and coach Jessica Alister, Canady chosen Stanford in her junior yr: an anomaly in softball recruiting, the place women typically make their selections as early as seventh grade.
Stanford, with its educational pedigree and unrelenting dedication to her, received on the Canady sweepstakes. Their reward was imminent. Canady got here in and instantly established herself as a power on the crew. By the primary or second apply, she was putting all people out.
“It was like, wow, that’s insane. She’s doing this as a freshman,” mentioned catcher and Golden Glove Award winner Aly Kaneshiro. She says it’s simple to overlook her class yr.
“She’s just like the sweetest lady ever. However she is going to intimidate you. You see her on the mound and also you’re like, ‘Dang, she is frightening’.”
It’s not simply her presence that’s horrifying. Every considered one of her coaches attests to her will: “You’ll by no means know if she wasn’t 110% that day. You wouldn’t know,” Moran mentioned. “She’s simply not afraid to work.”
“I don’t assume she ever wavered,” Huecker mentioned. Canady was solely additional motivated by challenges, Huecker mentioned.
“She has the right mentality for a pitcher. Couldn’t ask for higher,” Nyberg mentioned.
However her actual expertise lies in her will to enhance.
“She’ll be higher the subsequent time she sees you,” Huecker mentioned. “NiJa’s all the time been a child that has rised to the event it doesn’t matter what it was.”
After taking the 2023 World Sequence by storm, there is just one impediment left: the championship. And, she’s raring to go — with the varsity that poured a lot time and love into her.
“If I’m successful the World Sequence, I wish to win with Stanford written throughout my chest,” Canady mentioned.
Be careful, Oklahoma: NiJaree Canady’s coming again higher than earlier than and if you happen to’re not cautious, she’ll stomp proper previous you.