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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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SDSU is playing in its 13th NCAA tournament and second straight under second-year head coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz. (Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State) SDSU is playing in its 13th NCAA tournament and second straight under second-year head coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz. (Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State)

SDSU ‘Coach Nuvey’ Shares the Signs

Highly decorated as a player, second-year Aztecs softball head coach Stacey Nuveman-Deniz continues to build on team’s success with wins and lessons on and off the field
By Mario Sevilla

“There's joy and pride that you feel watching your people do well, watching your people succeed, very similar to being a parent.”

Stacey Nuveman-Deniz, head softball coach at San Diego State University, admits she never envisioned herself being a coach. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion was enjoying her success as a player, breaking records and racking up titles with her best friends. 


Being on the diamond is all she’d ever known since her dad started towing her along to her brother’s Little League practices where she’d take grounders and hit off the tee.


“My dad would come home and say to my mom, ‘You know, we got something here because this little girl is keeping up with the older boys, no problem,’” said Nuveman-Deniz. 


She gave youth softball a shot.


Nuveman-Deniz’s natural ability coupled with her fierce competitive spirit earned her an invitation to join the Junior Olympic softball team leading to her first national title. The experience convinced her that softball was her calling.


“I think softball kind of found me,” she said.


After winning a CIF banner while at St. Lucy's Priory High School in Los Angeles, she accepted a scholarship from UCLA in 1997. Nuveman-Deniz burst onto the college scene her first year setting records in home runs and RBIs. She would help lead the Bruins to a National Championship in 1999's Women's College World Series while shattering school and NCAA records over her career. She was later inducted into UCLA’s Hall of Fame.


She landed a spot on Team USA for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Nuveman-Deniz helped muscle her team out of the shadows of elimination with a game-winning three-run home run blast over China, then recorded USA's only hit in their upset win against Japan in the gold medal match. She’d win a second gold medal at the 2004 Games.




Years later while preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, she saw the sun setting on her stellar playing career.


“I had a family and I was getting older,” she said. “The demands on the body, the physicality … it was time.”


It seems natural to make the transition from two-time Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion to writing lineup cards and sending signals from the dugout but it wasn’t for Nuveman-Deniz. She was focused on her young family. She wasn’t prepared for the grueling work of managing a team — much less a college team — but she gave that try at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California.


“It's a 14-month year,” she said about balancing being a coach, administrative duties and motherhood. “You don't get into this profession unless you're passionate about your sport and passionate about mentoring young women.”


While overseas taking her final at-bats as a member of Team USA’s Olympic squad, she was looking forward to devoting some time at home with her son. Then she heard SDSU head softball coach Kathy Van Wyk was searching for an assistant.


“She said, ‘Hey you know the word on the street is you may have some interest in the position,’” Nuveman-Deniz recalled about her call with Van Wyk. “I was actually in Beijing at the Olympics, so she offers me this job, with all of the things swirling in my life … this decision is now on my plate. OK, am I going to really do this?”


Nuveman-Deniz was familiar with SDSU, her mother Susan (Gregory) Nuveman (‘70) earned her teaching credential at the university. She was nervous about relocating her family. With the support of her family and coach Van Wyk, she took a leap of faith.


“I called her [Van Wyk] from my dorm room in the Olympic Village to accept the position,” she recounted.


As SDSU’s new assistant coach, Nuveman-Deniz got a front-row seat to Van Wyk’s masterclass on managing a collegiate team. Van Wyk, who remains SDSU’s and the Mountain West conference’s all-time winningest coach (805-558-1), towed her young protege around to department meetings — reminiscent of the days her father introduced her to the sport.


On June 8, 2021, less than a month after Van Wyk retired, SDSU director of athletics JD Wicker named Nuveman-Deniz head coach. 


Nuveman-Deniz’s career at the helm is off to an electrifying start. The Aztecs have won back-to-back conference titles and are looking to make a run in the college softball postseason starting Friday night.




In the dugout, Coach Nuvey, as her players affectionately call her, is poised, constantly scanning the field for opportunities. She’s subtly calculating for the moment to shut down an opponent’s offense or send a signal to swing for the moon. The result is even more intimidating at SDSU Softball Stadium where the Aztecs own a 13-game home winning streak, the best in program history and tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the country.


She said her success is built on a philosophy she’s followed all of her life: “If you are committed, if you're listening to the signs, if you're talking to people that you trust, you won't make bad decisions,” she said. “You'll end up where you're supposed to be.”


Allie Light, SDSU softball junior and 2023’s Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, describes “Coach Nuvey” as a compassionate mentor and purpose-driven. She credits Nuveman-Deniz for helping her transition from her home in South Carolina to SDSU. Light describes the time Coach Nuvey amusingly live-streamed herself preparing Thanksgiving dinner at the request of the team and the time the coaching staff hid Easter eggs filled with motivational messages during practice.


“She’s a mom … She has all of these awesome traits,” said Light. “She facilitates an environment that allows us to have moments, to have fun, and be the best version of ourselves on and off the field.”


Nueveman-Deniz will soon be back where she is supposed to be: at UCLA’s Easton Stadium for the double elimination NCAA Los Angeles Regional. But she won't be there to wax nostalgic about her records or titles.


“The feels of it aren't too dramatic,” said Nuveman-Deniz. “I want UCLA to win every single game except for when I'm coaching against them. I love UCLA with all my heart but I want to kick their ‘you-know-what’ on game day.”


“Our trajectory is exciting and it's been an upward trend since I walked on campus and that's a powerful thing to be a part of.”



The Aztecs (35-15) will play the Liberty Flames (38-20) at 8 p.m. PT Friday at Easton Stadium in Los Angeles on the campus of No. 2/2 UCLA (52-5), the tournament's No. 2 overall seed.