How Tearing Her ACL Led To Mary Haff’s Success At Arkansas
For Mary Haff, much of the success she experienced during the 2021 season indirectly resulted from a devastating blow she took in 2019.
Back then, before she was named the SEC Co-Pitcher of the Year and helped Arkansas win the SEC regular-season title for the first time in program history, she experienced an ACL tear at the end of the 2019 season. Haff tells Softball America that the injury was a turning point in her career.
Not having a regular fall season caused Haff to feel unprepared and she struggled during the shortened 2020 campaign. When COVID-19 shut down the season, Haff said she had to look in the mirror and ask herself who she wanted to be.
"I really got to rehab my knee fully, go back and get to my fundamentals with pitching, and really just take a mental break from softball so I can get almost rejuvenated and get the fire back that I had before," Haff said. "So I think a turning point in my career was tearing my ACL and then just that year off with COVID really just made me realize how special softball is and made me appreciate it more."
Once the 2021 season began, the injury was a thing of the past and Haff returned to full form, leading the Razorbacks to a 12-game winning streak to start SEC play.
"I just think our team was incredibly resilient," Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel said. "When you're in a streak like that, you don't feel the streak so much as just feeling the moment that you're in, and I think our team did a really great job of that."
Arkansas had plenty of contributions on both sides of the ball. In addition to Haff, Autumn Storms performed well in the circle and Braxton Burnside at the plate. Haff said that the offensive production from the lineup helped relieve some stress even when she didn't have her best stuff.
Haff admits that she didn't feel any pressure when her team had a chance to win the SEC regular season during a series with LSU. Deifel tells Softball America that the title-clinching win was important for the program's trajectory, and that moment was the result of hard work over the last couple of years.
"The players that we had in that circle on the field that night that we won it, they all came because they saw it in a player that played before them, and they saw that it could happen," Deifel said. "I'm incredibly proud of this team. I just thought it was a really special group, a really special year and it's pretty awesome to accomplish that together."
While Haff may not have had her best stuff at all times, she delivered all season for the Razorbacks in 2021, posting a 26-7 record with a 1.55 ERA and 198 strikeouts on the year. Deifel stated that Haff was reliable and gritty all season long, and the team fed off that.
After having a stellar season, she was named SEC Co-Pitcher of the Year along with Alabama's Montana Fouts, something she didn't expect to happen.
"I honestly thought that it was going to be Montana Fouts just because she's a phenomenal pitcher," Haff said. "The fact that I could even be in the same category as Montana Fouts is such an honor."
After the success of the regular season, the Razorbacks hosted the regional and super regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament. While they didn't get the results they wanted and fell in super regionals, the season was undoubtedly a special one for Haff.
Now entering her final college softball campaign, Haff has one goal for 2022: to enjoy her last season in Fayetteville.
"With this year being my last year of softball, I'm not so worried about my accomplishments," Haff said. "Obviously, I've been the SEC Pitcher of the Year, I'm a first-team All-American and all my goals that I've set in my career I've accomplished. Now, I'm worried about the team. I want the team to do well. I want to mentor the younger players so they can carry on the tradition that we set here at Arkansas and just hold that standard. I just want to enjoy the last year."