MERCED, Calif. – In the North Valley these days, Madilyn “Bubba” Nickles is kind of a big deal.

“It’s just so wonderful, whenever I go to the grocery store, ‘people are like, oh my gosh, you’re Bubba Nickles,'” said the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Softball Team, when we caught up with her at her house in Atwater recently, before she departed for Tokyo.

And the support from her local community has extended to her mother’s workplace.

“I work at Costco here in Merced,” said her mom Natalie. “And they’re putting together a bunch of shirts that say, ‘we support USA softball, and (they) put her name and number on their backs.”

Bubba is used to this kind of attention, because she has been on the national radar since her high school days. She was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year as a senior at Merced High School in 2016.

One year later, she was named USA Softball Junior Female Athlete of the Year, then had an All-American season as a junior at UCLA, in helping lead the Bruins to a national championship in 2019.

But if you talk to her parents, softball is just a small part of what makes their daughter special.

“I get more compliments on her personality, or how friendly she is, how receiving she is to other people,” said her father Ted. “Her faith is very strong. I mean, I couldn’t be more proud.”

“She’s loving and kind, and generous, and just a hard-worker,” added Natalie. “And I mean, she’s all the things, and she makes us so proud.”

It’s not surprising then, that family and friends throughout the Valley, from Sacramento to Merced, on down to Fresno, will be rooting her on as she goes for the gold in Tokyo.

“We’re gonna have watch parties here, and invite everybody over, that wants to come watch,” said Ted.

And win or lose, Bubba will carry with her onto the Olympic diamond in Tokyo, the lessons learned thousands of miles away back here in the Central Valley.

“Just stay true to herself, play the game like she’s always played it,” answered Natalie, when asked what advice she would give her daughter heading into the Olympics.

“Just play hard and have fun,” summed up Ted. “That’s how I’ve always coached her.”

Bubba and Team USA will actually open Olympic competition before the Opening Ceremonies on Friday. Their first game against Italy will take place at 8 p.m. pacific time on Tuesday night (12 p.m. Wednesday in Tokyo). It will air on the NBC Sports Network.