High Hopes, Big Disappointments
BY HALEY HANSON | EDITORIAL INTERN
“Are the State Champs ready to win again?” This question was posed to my team a lot over our softball season. Because we had only lost one starter from the previous season, everyone at school knew we had a shot at the State Title again. We had finished the previous season on such a high note, it was now expected that we repeat it.
The spring of 2017 was a season of dreams for my high school softball team in Redmond, WA. Many people, including myself, could only imagine what we had accomplished. We were Academic State Champs, KingCo Champs, District Champs, and State Champs. I have never felt as proud of myself as I did then because I worked so hard to earn it and I sacrificed so much. All those hours staying home from not being able to go to movies or parties with my friends for practice, early mornings on the field, and long weekends at tournaments finally paid off. I was on cloud nine. As such, I had high hopes for this 2018 season, as did the rest of my team. But this year the pressure we put on ourselves as a team came falling down at State when we lost our second game, taking us out of the championship bracket. Our pitcher Kiki Milloy said, “We learned not to overlook teams and also to stay hungry. But overall, this taught us that the pressure we feel is put onto us is only from ourselves and if we can eliminate self-pressure then the game becomes a lot more fun for the whole team.” The best we could hope for was third. We ended up finishing in the fourth place.
At the beginning of the season, it felt great to get back into the swing of things. I would show up to practice every day eager to learn and compete. The coaching staff made what was at stake very clear: an invisible target was on our backs from each team because we were the team to beat. Despite unexpected injuries that changed our chemistry, we learned to overcome the obstacle and kept the pressure on. We won every game during the regular season. This was a big accomplishment for me, my team, and my school, but we were all hungry for more. I wanted that state title trophy back at my school where we can display it and everyone can see it and wish they had earned it. I want people to know that softball isn’t easy and that it’s a real sport.
Before the start of the second game at State versus Mount Spokane, I was nervous but excited to continue our winning streak. I kept thinking in my head, “One down three more to go, one down three more.” It all started with our hitting which would determine the outcome of the game.
As a team we struggled more with hitting this year than we had the season before. The previous year we crushed the ball, and our defense wasn’t up to par. I switched from playing right field to center field so I had to learn how to move around faster and read the ball off the bat quicker. Playing center field meant I was responsible for the outfield and that was nerve racking.
Before every game I got butterflies in my stomach. I always want to do great and perform to the best of my ability. For some reason I was more nervous at the Mount Spokane game than normal, but I couldn’t put a finger on why. We were the home team and we got our first three outs fast, just like every other game we played that year.
In the first inning, Kiki led off and got on base and I did too. We scored a couple of runs that inning and continued to get them out when we were in the field. The uneasy feeling in my tummy still wasn’t gone. But, the game was fully in our favor.
Mount Spokane ended up scoring three runs the next inning, making the score 4 to 3. We were still ahead, but then I started to see my team tense up in the box and, out on the field, we made errors. The game was now tied 4 to 4. They were really hitting well and the ball seemed to be going all the places we weren’t.
The game continued on and we batted and a couple of us got on and again got left stranded on base. In the seventh and final inning, Mount Spokane came up to the plate with hot bats and scored one run, making the score 5 to 4. So it was up to us to score at least two to win the game and the pressure was on. I was going to be coming up to bat, and that was exactly what I wanted. I knew I had to get on base and put my team in a position to win the game. I would do my job.
As I was in the on- deck circle I was thinking about hitting practices and how they were my favorite. I loved working to perfect my swing. Time slows down when I see the ball approaching me in the batter’s box. I watch the pitcher release the ball, the spin of the red yarn as the yellow ball comes to me. I start my swing and the feeling of the ball hitting the sweet spot of the bat and going far is one of the best feelings ever.
I came up to bat with one out. I will be honest, I could feel my heart pumping and my adrenaline was at an all -time high. I got ready to slap. Ball one. Ball two. Strike one. I took a deep breath and told myself, “It’s time”. I slowed down my breathing and watched the pitcher and, just like hitting practice, I watched the spin and I hit the sweet spot. I was on first base and I knew I could be the tying run. But my job was not over. I needed to score.
As I was getting ready for our next batter, I thought about all the base running instructions I have received over the years. I worked on base running in practice all the time. Being one of the fastest girls on the team, I know I have a big job. I need to steal bases and be aggressive because with my speed I can get those crucial extra bases to win ball games.
On the next pitch, I got the sign to steal from my coach. Getting that sign always makes me squirmy. I watched the pitcher, leaned back, and I got on my horse and ran as fast as I could, slid in and waited for the call. The referee swung his arms, “Safe!” I was now in scoring position waiting for Jenn, our catcher, to hit me home.
Jenn got a base hit and I got to third. She stole and now we had runners on second and third with just one out. Our next batter struck out. It was now riding on the last batter. I knew that everything we worked so hard for was coming down to this next moment. I waited at third to see what was going to happen. As soon as the pitcher released the ball, I took my lead. When I heard the crack of the bat, I took off for home. Then I heard the cheers from the other side and knew that the outfielder had caught the ball. I was devastated. It was hard to swallow the fact that we could not be State Champions again. It felt like we had all failed.
It was really hard to come back from that loss, but our job was not finished. We still had a chance to finish in third. It was difficult and I was devastated. I shed some tears but kept my head high to focus on the next game.
I learned a lot about myself as an athlete through this experience. I learned how to grow mentally. It was hard losing but I picked myself up and we won the next three games. I learned that I play better in a fun and high energized environment and this atmosphere helps me play looser and perform better. Overall, the outcome wasn’t what I wanted but I learned a lot about my team and I am so proud of all of us. I learned so much as a State Champion, but I probably learned even more not being a State Champion. “I firmly believe that adversity and failure are some of the best teachers and we didn’t have that this year until it mattered most,” our coach, Alison Mitchell, later recalled. “So it was really mentally challenging as a team.” Even when things don’t turn out the way you hoped and planned for, there is always a lesson that you can learn to help you in the future. It is important to learn how to fail, so you can learn how to succeed and know how it feels to be on the other end. There is only one winner, and they worked hard too, and it is important to know how to accept a loss just as it is important to accept a championship. I am so grateful to have these girls by my side as we have the same goals and interests and desire to go for it all again next year! I wouldn’t choose anyone else to go to battle with. My life would not be the same without these teammates and the sport to teach me about life’s lessons.
"High Hopes, Big Disappointments" was Haley Hanon’s final project as an Editorial Intern at the Awesome Sports Project.
Click here to find out more about the internship program for high school girl athletes.