HELENA — On Wednesday, Helena Capital pitching standout Nyeala Herndon inked her future with the University of Montana's softball program.
It’s no surprise that Herndon was able to catch the eye of a Division I program after an impressive junior season when she broke Capital High records with 15 pitching wins, 19 starts, 151 strikeouts and four shutouts.
Much of Herndon's time is centered around athletics, outside of softball she's also involved in the Bruins' cheer and volleyball programs. And outside of Capital, she currently plays for the Washington Ladyhawks.
"I'm already starting pitching. I have a tournament in California next weekend. So I'm preparing for that. And then after that, we're gonna head up to Washington and practice with them once a month," Herndon said.
If being a high school student boasting a a 3.7 GPA and juggling multiple AP classes weren't enough, she practices remotely and travels with her team for games — a large commitment of time and money for the Herndon family.
"We're really lucky the Helena community has and the Townsend community, I'm from Townsend, they really rallied around us in sponsorships donations. They've been amazing to help us make this possible for her. Also, the organization that she paid for out of Washington has been amazing with helping us trying to figure things out. Because you're right, it is. It's really expensive. So just having the family behind her like that in the community is amazing," Herndon's mom, Aspen, said.
But what many don’t know is that there was a point where Herndon didn't think she'd make it in collegiate softball, and almost walked away from the game.
"A couple years ago, I didn't think so as much I was struggling a lot mentally. But after working and then playing high school softball when I thought I was going to quit, it actually motivated me to actually try and want to play more," she said.
It was her mom, who was her travel softball coach at the time, who helped pull her through her mental obstacles.
"[Helping Nyeala] was huge. Just watching all of her hard work, like, you can coach a kid, but it really is what they take out of it. And she really does that. On the field and off the field. She's a great teammate, she really works hard. And so just having her realize that. That's when everything started coming together with what she had to offer, [when she knew] that she was worth it," Aspen Herndon said.
Pitching, being a heavily mental game, Aspen knew she needed to be a positive light for her daughter.
"Right now, in this nation, we talked about mental health and just being that positive supporter there, whether it was a fail or a win, or she was struggling on the mound or it was an amazing day, always keeping it positive. Always looking at the big picture and how everything affects that and just helping her work through those little things," she said.
It's apparent that Aspen and Nyeala are close, so the offer to play for the University of Montana was a huge relief for the pair.
"I was ready to go work for the airline for free plane tickets," Aspen joked. "The Griz are amazing. Mel [Meuchel] and Alison [Mitchell] have been amazing with her and I'm ready to send her off. I'm ready to send her there," she said.