Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!
Already a subscriber? Log In
Conquering a giant can sometimes be compared to a swimmer trying to avoid being pounded by a massive wave. Firecrackers Brashear infielder Nellian McEnroe-Marinas literally learned that lesson growing up in Hawaii.
A native of Waianae, the 5-foot-8 right-handed hitter spent a lot of time in the water with her father. Brian Marinas would put Nellian on his back, tell her to relax and go under, hold her breath, and let the wave pass.
When Nellian was three, Brian would toss her in a pool and encourage her to swim to several of her uncles waiting on the other side.
“My dad told me to swim to each one in a circle,” recalled Nellian, or Nelly as her family and friends call her. “He just tossed me in the water and said, “swim.”
This was how Nelly began to build confidence and fight fear.
“I know she’s not going to drown because my brothers are in the pool,” Brian recalled of the swimming lessons. “But I would put her in the pool and tell her to swim so her mind will overcome the (fear). When she overcomes it, she’ll say, “I can do this”.”
That’s certainly one way to build mental toughness. Facing an elite softball pitcher in a big game is a walk in the park compared to the deep end of a pool or a big wave at the beach. The rush Nelly experiences in the water is much different than the feeling of being in the batter’s box or playing defense.
“With a wave, it’s scary,” Nelly said. “I’m more calm on the field than in the water. I know what I’m doing or what I have to do. In the water, you never know what can happen.”
Perhaps that explains why Nelly has what Firecrackers coach Sean Brashear calls “swag”, a conviction that she can accomplish anything.
“This kid is unafraid,” Brashear said. “You could put her in the box against Rachel Garcia, and she would think she’s going to get a hit. It’s that ability and mindset to have enough belief in what she is as a player in all things… She has that IT factor. There isn’t a moment that’s going to be too big for her.”
Nelly’s greatest challenge over the past few months has been seeing action in her favorite sports. She hasn’t been to a beach since the coronavirus pandemic began, and she wasn’t able to play travel ball with her Firecrackers teammates during the summer shutdown.
During her freshman season at Maryknoll School in Honolulu, Nelly’s team played just two games. It was especially disappointing since she was the only starting freshman on the varsity. But she made the most of her limited opportunity, going 3-for-8 with a home run that came in her first plate appearance.
“I was really nervous,” Nelly recalled of that first at-bat. “I think it was the second or third pitch. I had two runners on. I was like, “oh my gosh if I strike out, it’s not going to be good”. So I just swung.”
That three-run blast helped the Spartans win the game over Mid-Pacific. Nelly stayed in top physical shape during the lockdown doing cardio work, sprints, and ladders in the yard. Her aunt, Briana Uiti, has a set of weights at her home. Nelly often goes there to do squats, lunges, RDL’s and bench presses. She did manage to get in a few games over the summer, playing for a team at an informal tournament in Hawaii.
Nelly has spent most of the fall in Arizona, where the Firecrackers have played several tournaments. Since Hawaii has continued to be in a partial lockdown, she and Brian have been staying with relatives, while her mom Shanelle remains in Hawaii. Classes at Maryknoll are all-virtual. This has been especially difficult for Nelly, who misses her friends back home. But she’s learning to make the best out of a tough situation and is just glad to be playing softball again.
“I’m happy to finally be playing, especially on the team I’m playing for right now,” she said. “This whole team is top-notch. I’m one of the youngest girls, and it pushes me to work and fight harder for my spot.”
Nelly took up T-ball and coach pitch at an early age. But she also enjoyed soccer and didn’t begin playing organized softball until she was around 10. It was during eighth grade that she became passionate about the sport.
In the fall of 2019, Nelly joined Firecrackers-Brashear. She played for the 14U team most of the fall season, but saw brief action with the 18U squad during one tournament. She got hits in her first two at-bats that weekend. Brashear rotates her between shortstop and third, and she consistently bats in the three or four-hole.
“She’s a combination of a tremendous athlete and power,” Brashear said. “We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good players. Nelly fits in line to become one of the best we’ve ever had just through her pure athleticism.”
Maryknoll softball coach John Uekawa compares Nelly’s hitting style and versatility to Jocelyn Alo, who played at nearby Campbell High. Alo, a senior utility player at Oklahoma, is also 5-foot-8. Nelly draws particular inspiration from the former University of Florida All-American Aleshia Ocasio.
“I’ve watched her on YouTube for a long time,” Nelly explained. “She’s always pumped up, always ready. You could tell she was always one of the leaders on the team.”
Although recruiters cannot have direct contact with Nelly until next September, she has attended camps at several Pac-12 schools, including UCLA and Washington. She was in awe of playing on a college softball field against so many talented girls. She and her parents are prepared to trust the recruiting process and leave the outcome in God’s hands.
“When that day comes, we’re going to let Nelly choose where she wants to go,” Shanelle said.
Nelly is quick to give credit to her family and coaches for making her the player she has become. But she also draws motivation from an unlikely source.
“The people who didn’t believe in me, who thought I would (fail),” Nelly said. “Without them, I wouldn’t want to work harder. They always made me want to push myself harder and do better.”
It’s the same determination that helped her conquer the fear of a giant wave on the beach. Stay calm, hold your breath, and it will pass.