Ceres High varsity softball star Nicole Bates had a memorable evening at home last Wednesday.
Heather Tarr, Mike Roberts and Ashley Andrews, coaches from the University of Washington, visited with Bates and her family.
"It's pretty surreal," Nicole said. "I've wanted to go to that university ever since I was little. They were one of the first teams I saw play on TV. I watched them win the National Championship. It's pretty awesome. Everything is falling into place."
The in-home visit took place at Nicole's mom's residence. "I saw them pull up," she said. "I went outside and gave them hugs."
Nicole's family, including mother Michelle Hedden, father John Bates, and siblings Jimmy and Samantha Bates, were a part of the 6 p.m. dinner party.
Nicole's grandparents prepared the food. The Mexican buffet consisted of carne asada, chile rellenos, beans, rice and tortillas.
"It was really cool for our family to spend time with them," Nicole said.
"Special day she won't ever forget," John said.
Bates found out she was selected to the 2015 FloSoftball All-American First Team 10 minutes after Washington's coaching staff left following a two-hour visit.
"My friend (Ceres High softball teammate Mackenzie Veuve) text me," Nicole said. "It's super humbling getting awards. But you don't think about that when you are playing. You just got to play your game and not care what people think about you. It's really important to remember where you came from and not get too big for your own britches."
Nicole spent the previous week in Colorado, where she played a key role while leading the Huntington Beach-based Firecrackers-Rico 18-and-under travel softball team to a second-place finish at the Sparker Tournament.
The single-elimination championship bracket featured 64 teams with talented players bound for major NCAA Division-I schools.
Bates has been a member of Firecrackers-Rico for the past two years.
She suited up for Mike Baisdon's NorCal Firecrackers 16-and-under squad for one season.
"It's been so worth it," said Nicole, who makes the six-hour drive to Huntington Beach just about every weekend to practice and compete for the Rico-led Firecrackers. "It's really a big opportunity for me to play on that team. It's been such a great experience."
Bates' college plans will be finalized later this year.
Nicole made a non-binding verbal commitment with the Huskies her freshman year.
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules prohibit Washington's coaches from publicly commenting about Bates' recruitment until November.
"I'm so excited to be able to go to the school of my dreams," Bates said. "It's still hard to believe sometimes. The stars aligned. It's pretty awesome. My hard work is paying off. I get to play a sport I love and get a great degree. I don't know which position I'll play. I hope to be on the field somewhere. I have a really strong love for the game. I'm a pretty competitive person. Softball brings that out of me."