Paupack's junior shortstop provides leadership on the Lackawanna League diamond

If Nicki Mann's picture were next to the word "indefatigable" in the dictionary, it's doubtful anyone at Wallenpaupack Area would be surprised.

A bouncy, bubbly and talented student/athlete, Mann could be the poster child for 5-Hour Energy.

"She's a great kid," Lady Buck softball coach Dan Gumble said. "Nicki really loves to compete She loves being out there. It's actually kind of tough to get her off the field sometimes."

It's safe to say that Lady Buck fans would prefer she remain on the diamond as much as possible.

After all, Mann is one of the main reasons Paupack enters the Lackawanna League campaign as 2-time defending division champs.

Weather permitting, the local lasses were slated to begin their title defense on Thursday at North Pocono.

This weekend, Paupack is scheduled to take on East Stroudsburg South in a non-league contest. First pitch is set for 10 a.m. Saturday morning at ESS.

Gold Glove

Mann is a junior who just recently closed out a superb hoops season.

Nicki and her teammates battled their way to a Division Two Lackawanna League title, then captured the Class AAAA District Two championship.

Following an appearance in the PIAA state tourney, Mann returned home, took a deep breath, and traded in her sneakers for cleats.

Just moments after an early season exhibition game with Montrose, Nicki stood still long enough for a chat with TNE Sports.

"Softball is my favorite sport," she said. "I've been playing since I was like 5-years-old. Don't get me wrong: I love basketball, too. But, I literally count the days 'til softball practice starts."

Mann has tried to ease herself into the transition this spring, the memory of a painful injury still lingering in the back of her mind.

"I hurt my rotator cuff during the pre-season last year," she said. "I tried to throw too much and too hard before I was ready."

Thankfully for Mann and for local fans, the injury turned out to be minor. She had to dial it back for two weeks, but rebounded to have a stellar season.

Mann batted .377, roped 23 hits and scored 20 runs.

As impressive as those numbers were, her play at shortstop was even more dazzling.

Nicki is as surehanded as they come. If she gets a glove on the ball, 99 times out of 100, it's an out. Her range is peerless and there's nothing she enjoys more than robbing an enemy batter of a basehit.

"I could literally take infield all day," Nicki said. "I like to hit, too, but fielding is my favorite."

Mann and second baseman RaeAnn Ehrhardt form a dynamic double play duo in Paupack's middle infield. In fact, the two girls share a secret ambition.

"We always say we want to play short and second for the University of Tennessee," Nicki said. "That's been our dream for as long as I can remember."

Here & Now

With Mann at short and Ehrhardt at second, the Lady Bucks are once again solid favorites to challenge for a division title.

Caitlin Donahue at first, Emily Winkler at third and Kennedy Thomas behind the plate round out an airtight infield.

Those veteran players should provide Gold Glove defense for Brittany Guerrieri, senior mound ace and one of the best pitchers in the league.

"We're all really close, we're all best friends," said Mann. "This is our year to win it all. We're going to focus on the league, but then we want that district championship."

Paupack has come close twice in the recent past.

The Lady Bucks suffered a heartbreaking loss to Williamsport in the Class AAAA title tilt two years ago. They were then eliminated by Hazleton in last year's semifinals.

"I really think we can go all the way," Nicki said. "No one wants it more than we do."