Playing with her travel team in California last summer, Brianna Nykaza saw a woman in the stands with a Greek flag on her shirt.
With Greek blood on her mom’s side, curiosity got the best of Nykaza.
The woman was Lauren Stavrou, a pitcher on Greece’s national women’s softball team. A quick conversation later, and the wheels were in motion for Nykaza to join the team.
A senior-to-be at Whitney Young and a Beverly resident, Nykaza will play for the Greek National U22 team, July 23-28, at the European U22 championship in Trnava, Slovakia.
“I’m a little nervous, but I feel like this is going to be a really great experience,” Nykaza said. “Meeting all the other girls, seeing how they play and learning from them, getting coached and playing girls from all over the world, that will be a cool experience.”
A Clissold Elementary School graduate, Nykaza departed on July 17 for a training camp with the Greek team before pool play begins in the U22 tourney.
The competition will welcome 17 teams from around the continent, with Greece facing Slovakia, Turkey, England and Ireland in pool play.
For Nykaza, the anticipation is growing.
“The softball, the experience, wearing the jersey, it’s all those things,” Nykaza said. “Playing in a different country and seeing other competition from countries around the world, it’s going to be exciting.”
Nykaza’s mom, Maria (nee Trikoulis) is 100-percent Greek. Her parents, Andreas and Marina, were born in Greece and eventually moved to the United States.
To be eligible for the team, Nykaza filed for dual citizenship and applied for her passport, which she recently received.
“I talked to Lauren [last summer], and she gave me the coach’s information,” Nykaza said. “I reached out, and with the dual citizenship, the passport and the paperwork, it all fell into place.”
A varsity starter at Whitney Young since her freshman year, Nykaza is coming off a dominant junior season where she hit .462 with 6 home runs, 50 RBI, 49 runs and 21 doubles.
In the circle, the 5’4” righty went 4-0 with 39 strikeouts and a 2.95 ERA in 38 innings pitched.
The Dolphins won the Chicago Public Schools city championship in her freshman and sophomore season.
“We relied on our hitting a lot as a team,” Nykaza said. “Our coach, Mike Hinrichs, really pushed us this year. We stepped up our workouts, but it was worth it in the end.”
Whitney Young won a Class 4A regional title but lost to the eventual fourth-place team in the state, York, in the sectional semifinals.
Nykaza credited Hinrichs and her hitting and pitching coaches, Colleen Kilduff, Eileen Canney and Tori Nyberg, for her continued improvement.
Greece’s national team will also compete this fall in the Netherlands at the Super Six tournament featuring Europe’s top six teams. The field of competitors for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is still to be decided.
However, Nykaza is ready for whatever softball throws at her. Just 5’4” and one of the youngest girls on the team from Greece, she’s up for the challenge.
“I like competing and the feeling of that intense game,” Nykaza said. “I’m not worried about playing, just being new. I work hard, and I don’t let my height slow me down. Everyone has been really nice, so this will be a great opportunity.”