By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the summer of 2009, Coquese Washington had a class of four high school basketball players that she was bringing in to get her program back into the conversation with the Big Ten elite.
Washington had a point guard in Alex Bentley, a shooting guard in Gizelle Studevent, a small forward in Marisa Wolfe and a center in Nikki Greene. The sixth year coach at the time was missing one thing and that was a true power forward.
Then, along came Mia Nickson. Nickson transferred from Boston College to Penn State in the summer of 2009 and had to sit out the whole 2009-2010 season. However, Washington immediately thought that when Nickson would be eligible, her recruiting class of 2009 would be all set.
"I think she was exactly what we needed to round out that class," said Washington. "I think her addition to this kind of made it complete. The kinds of things she is able to do on the court, being a power forward presence, added with Nikki [Greene], who is a center, and Marisa [Wolfe], who was a natural small forward. She made the class full and gave us weapons in every position."
Nickson, who prepped at Notre Dame Academy in Virginia, was a heralded prospect coming out of high school after leading her team to the No. 4 ranking in the ESPN High School Elite 25 national poll.
She then went to Boston College where she averaged 1.6 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in her freshman year before deciding to transfer to Penn State.
That decision was made for a number of reasons, one of which was because she bought into what Washington was selling her before making the decision.
"We all came here with the intention to help rebuild this program," said Nickson. "We believed in coach Washington and her ideas and where she wanted to take the program. We agreed with it and worked really hard for it."
Once Nickson arrived to campus, her coaches and teammates soon learned the hard work and discipline the 6-foot-2 power forward brought to the table.
She's a double-digit scoring threat, can easily collect 10 or more rebounds and makes plays on the defensive end while setting an example for her teammates, both on and off the court. Nickson does all of this in a quiet manner, though.
"That's the one thing that I really like about this class and Mia embodies it," said Washington. "The entire [senior] class, they could care less about personal accolades. From the moment Mia stepped onto campus she brought leadership, quiet leadership, but certainly leadership none the less."
Washington also said that Nickson brings a level of respect for authority and discipline to the team as she goes about her business each and every day. Where her story gets even more intriguing, is the source of her type of leadership.
Nickson grew up in a military family and now calls herself a "military brat". Because of this background, she goes about her business strategically and makes it a point to get things done on time and respect those with authority.
All of that has translated onto the basketball court for Nickson in regards to following game plans and getting drills done or executing plays the right way.
"I grew up in the armed services and the structure of where things have to be and what time things have to be done," said Nickson. "I enjoy it and that is what basketball is like. They tell you what you have to do and when you have to do it and it's helpful."
After college, Nickson plans on trading in her basketball gear for some gear in the armed services as she plans to continue her military life as an officer in the service.
Nickson has been able to use her leadership skills from her military background and use them to help tutor and set an example for the younger players on her Lady Lion team.
"It shows them that you can do what you need to do, but when it's game day, you just have to do the little things," said Nickson. "You have to know your role and preform your role without any types of issues. You have to go out and perform to the best of your ability and once you do that everything comes easy."
Nickson has done exactly that in her four years at Penn State. She has accepted the job of being a quiet enforcer and this has not gone unnoticed from her fellow teammates, especially in the senior class.
"The thing with Mia is that she will do whatever she needs to do," said Bentley. "She's the greatest role player that I have ever played with. She takes care of business and she does everything well and plays to her strengths."
Now, Nickson has two home games left in her Lady Lion career, which shocks the redshirt senior that finished her undergraduate studies in 2012.
However, the biggest thing she will take away from her four years at Penn State are lessons her school has taught her by blending academics and athletics.
"The best thing I am going to take away is just the community and getting the best of both worlds by being a scholar and student-athlete," said Nickson. "It is great and probably one of the only places in the world that I could do that and I have really enjoyed my time here."
Nickson and the other four members of the senior class have two home games remaining in their Lady Lion careers starting with Illinois on Wednesday, Feb. 20 and Michigan for the "Pink Zone" game on Sunday, Feb. 24.