LA GRANDE — Nicole Christian may be leaving Mac-Hi’s softball team, but she’s returning to familiar territory.

For the past 10 years, Christian has coached some of the best Mac-Hi softball teams in recent memory, but next spring, she’ll don Mountaineer gear once again to helm Eastern Oregon University’s softball program.

Christian, a Class of 2000 EOU graduate, was a shortstop for all four years of her collegiate softball career. She was a part of two teams that qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics finals in 1999 and 2000. Her 1999 team placed fourth in the nation to cap off a season of 41 wins — a program record.

Christian was also named an All-American player both years, and still holds all-time records for career hits (200), RBIs (137), and walks (83). Her legacy at EOU is so rich, in fact, that she was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013. Her team was inducted two years prior.

She graduated EOU with degrees in physical education and health.

“I’m so excited. I think I’m still taking it all in,” Christian said. “I’ll be moving back to a place I’ve always called my second home. (La Grande) reminds me of Milton-Freewater when it comes to community support. I love being back there. I forgot how beautiful and it exciting it is. It’s been an easy transition so far.”

Christian will take the reins from Erin Dickhausen, who coached the Mountaineers for two seasons. Under Dickhausen, EOU went 26-24 and reached the NAIA National Championships last year. However, they finished this season at 13-32 — its lowest win record since 2012.

Christian led Mac-Hi to two championships in 2014 and 2015 — the program’s only title game appearances thus far. The Pioneers finished 2019 with a 17-9 record and 8-4 in the Greater Oregon League. They claimed the No. 2 spot in the conference standings, just below the La Grande Tigers, and made another run at the 4A state title, falling to Banks in the quarterfinals, 6-5.

“It was amazing,” Christian said of her time at Mac-Hi. “I met a lot of amazing young women. Most of them still have a huge impact on my life. I’m very grateful for having those 10 years.”

After graduation, Christian stayed in La Grande and coached the Tigers’ softball team for three seasons. The team went to state three times under her guidance.

However, when her grandfather suffered an injury, Christian returned to Milton-Freewater.

“I never knew that I was going to come back home,” she said, “but I’ve been there ever since. When I moved back, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to coach again. Things just fell into place. We had a ton of community support, and I’ve had a great administration behind me for the past 10 years.”

Christian has additional coaching experience at Umatilla High School and Blue Mountain Community College. Her replacement at Mac-Hi has yet to be selected.

“I saw the opening at the end of our season,” Christian said. “I’ve always wanted to move back to La Grande, and I’ve always wanted to coach at the college level again. I didn’t know if I was going to get the position, but they offered it to me three or four days later. I wasn’t sure what the future was going to hold, but everything seemed to work out. I have a lot of pride to be an alumna at EOU. I want to bring that pride and passion back.”

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