Ron Doria remembers watching his daughter play softball when she was 5 years old, and noticing Nikki Doria wasn't like any other girl on her team -- or opposing teams.
"I remember how she would just dive on the field all the time for groundballs," Ron Doria said. "Kids at that age never do that, especially girls. She was just different."
Nikki Doria is now 18 and the "different" tag still fits. Only now, she's unlike any other girl athlete in the WPIAL. She's the best.
Doria, who graduated this month from South Park High School, is the Post-Gazette Female Athlete of the Year for the 2008-09 school year. The award takes into consideration athletes in the WPIAL and City League.
This is the 30th anniversary of the PG's first athlete of the year. Among the former winners are an Olympics gold medalist (Suzie McConnell), a silver medalist (Lauryn Williams), WNBA players (McConnell, Swin Cash and Edna Campbell) and NCAA champions (Christa Harmotto and Carole Zajac).
No one is predicting Olympics or professional sports for Doria, but not many among the former athlete of the year winners can match Doria's individual and team success in three different sports over a four-year period.
Doria was a starter since her freshman year in soccer, basketball and softball. She finished with 12 varsity letters, excelled individually in all three sports and had a tremendous senior year in all three.
This school year, Doria, who is 5 feet 5, was the leading scorer (30 goals) on a WPIAL championship soccer team, scored the only goal in the title game and was selected to the 10-player Post-Gazette All-Area team.
She was the leading scorer (16 points per game) on the South Park girls' basketball team that made it to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals and was an all-section pick. She also was an all-section second baseman in softball.
While she shined individually, the other impressive part of Doria's high school resume was wins. How many athletes played in 200 victories during their high school careers? During Doria's four years as a starter, South Park's soccer, basketball and softball teams had a combined record of 203-83-5.
"Wow. No one has ever told me that," Doria said of her 203 wins. "I guess that means I had a lot of good teammates."
That's the humble side of Doria. True, she had some talented teammates, but she was one of the main reasons for all the victories. You'll have a hard time coming up with many athletes in the history of the WPIAL who had this triple play: Three WPIAL championship games in three different sports in the same school year. That was part of Doria's junior year.
"You know what's funny?" Doria said. "I remember going into my freshman year and saying to myself, 'I want to win a WPIAL medal in every sport.' That was like my goal. I really never thought it would happen. It's kind of amazing."
In her career, Doria played in five WPIAL championship games -- three in soccer, one in basketball and one in softball. She was 4-1 in those title games, losing only in softball. She finished her soccer career with 102 goals and she finished her basketball career with 1,463 points.
"The main thing I remember about her is just how tough she was," said South Park girls' basketball coach Reggie Wells.
Wells' most unforgettable Doria story comes from her freshman year in a basketball game against Bishop Canevin. It was a big game, but Doria was sick with the flu. She insisted on playing, despite getting sick in the locker room at halftime. Then she got sick two more times in the second half, only to return to the game.
"Yeah, I remember the game," Doria said. "I remember there was a door at the end of the gym that went right outside. I could just run through it, throw up and come back. I was alright to still play. You get that really high adrenaline rush when you start playing and you don't feel sick any more."
Doria remembers the game for another reason.
"I remember we lost by a point," she said. "But I wanted to play and I just wanted to win. You put so much time into practicing that you really get mad when you can't play."
Wells said, "I don't think people realized how tough she was. She had this certain type of poise, just a real quiet confidence. She was a leader without hooting and hollering and I think the other kids fed off it. I think it was like that in every sport she played. It was one of those intangibles you can't coach."
Ask Doria who has been the most influential person in her athletic career and she doesn't hesitate to say her father. He was the one who would rebound for her when she shot basketball in the driveway at the family home. He was the one who would play her one-on-one in basketball. He was the one who would catch softball with her, throw batting practice to her, take her to the batting cages.
Nikki Doria is the youngest child of Ron and Lynn Doria. Nikki's older brother, Ronnie, played football and basketball and ran track at South Park.
Doria also was popular off the field and was voted homecoming queen in the fall. She graduated with a grade-point average above 3.0. She will play soccer next season at California University of Pennsylvania, an NCAA Division II school. She plans to major in nursing.
"High school has been really fun," Doria said. "I don't think it could've been any better."
Mike White can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1975.