A Year Of Uncertainty Gives Haley Cruse A New Outlook
In March of 2020, Haley Cruse's senior season was underway at the University of Oregon. She planned on helping her Oregon Ducks get back to the postseason and make some noise, but COVID-19 had other plans.
"It was very emotional, and I think everyone was kind of shocked and didn't know what to do," Cruse said. "Our team met and our coaches just started getting emotional and talking about how proud they were of us and talking like the season was over."
The season was, in fact, over, and for the Oregon seniors, including Cruse, that's when the news started to hit them.
"We realized that our college careers could potentially be over, and it just was all very heavy and very sudden, so it was a hard experience," Cruse added. "And then after that, it was just a lot of waiting to find out if we were going to be given another opportunity to play or not. It was definitely an emotional experience."
When the NCAA allowed for seniors to come back for an extra year, some players had a difficult choice to make. For Cruse, the decision to come back was not easy, as she considered professional opportunities. But once she knew the season was confirmed, it was too hard to pass up.
"The opportunity to pursue my master's was something that I couldn't pass up," Cruse said, "so I was very excited to get another opportunity to finish out my career on my own terms."
With the world shut down, Cruse relied on training with her now-fiancé Garrett Mitchell, a professional baseball player in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, to help her stay in shape for the 2021 season.
Cruse and her Oregon teammates had to adjust to many challenges once the season began. Testing was a regular part of the Ducks' routine, and at one point in the season, the team had to change at home because they couldn't use the locker room. The most challenging part was being limited in what they could do together as a team, especially as it related to getting the freshmen acclimated with the program.
As for the games in 2021, the atmosphere was unique, and for Cruse, it felt like the days of playing travel ball and playing simply for the love of the game.
"It was kind of nice to get back to our roots and just really focus on playing our game and enjoying it and playing it for the right reasons," Cruse said.
In her final season, Cruse hit .389 and helped lead Oregon to the Austin Regional, where fans were allowed in total capacity.
"I think it brought a little bit of nerves to the younger ones because we hadn't really gotten to play in that environment together," she said. "It was exciting for us for sure, and it was fun to see everyone back in the stands and our families out there."
Once her career as a Duck came to an end at the Austin Regional, Cruse signed with the USSSA Pride and started her professional softball career. She was excited to continue her career and help grow the game at the pro level.
On June 2, Cruse made her professional debut against Team USA. In her first at-bat, she collected her first hit as a pro player.
"I was relieved it was out of the way," she said. "It wasn't the prettiest of hits, but it got the job done."
Though they were often difficult to endure, the events of the last year have certainly given Cruse a newfound appreciation for softball.
"I just found a newfound appreciation for the game and was just happy to be out there," Cruse said. "I really took on a mentor role this year and prioritized helping my teammates, helping our team culture rather than worrying too much about my own individual stats. I think that just freed me up and allowed me to really just have fun playing."