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Victoria Hayward's 2020 Turns Into Growth Experience

(Photo by Jade Hewitt via Athletes Unlimited)

Victoria Hayward has had a busy 2020. After being slated to play softball for Team Canada in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, COVID-19 forced the Games to be postponed until 2021. However, that was not the end of softball this year for Hayward.

Playing for Athletes Unlimited in its inaugural season, the former Washington Husky hit .396 with 21 hits in 53 at-bats, including two home runs and 11 RBI. She finished the season third overall in points with 1,860 and is set to return in 2021.

Find out more about Hayward's time with AU and Team Canada below.

Softball America: How was it playing for Athletes Unlimited and are you excited for next season?

Victoria Hayward: Playing for Athletes Unlimited was incredibly rewarding. Having worked with the organization as a consultant and as head of the player executive committee for the last year, it was amazing to help craft what once was an out-there concept into the life-changing experience that it was for all 57 of our inaugural season’s athletes. To be able to play great softball and be at the top of my game, competing for a top three position was just the cherry on top. I am so excited to see how this league can continue to grow and I can’t wait for 2021.

SA: You ended the season in third place overall on the leaderboard with 1,860 points. What worked so well for you this season?

VH: I felt very prepared for the AU season this year. As a member of Team Canada, I was preparing for the 2020 Olympics and although that was canceled, I was able to maintain a lot of that structure and my training routine in order to help me mentally and physically prepare for the AU season. I think a huge key to my own success was creating an environment as a captain that made everyone feel welcome and valued. We made sure to have fun and keep it light, which really brought out everyone’s best personal performances—which is huge because although it is an individual league, team points represent so much of the final point total.

SA: From an outsider's perspective it looked like a lot of new friendships were formed during the Athletes Unlimited season. What can you say about the atmosphere of AU?

VH: The atmosphere in the “shield” at AU was incredible. Because we were in a COVID “shield,” we were able to spend a lot of time together as a group, both on and off of the field. The player group hosted weekly gatherings covering topics like racism, LGBTQ+ issues, body image, voting and many other real topics that further connected us as a group. Athletes Unlimited is about way more than just softball, so to connect with other players off of the softball field made those on-field moments that much more special.

SA: Oftentimes, athletes say there is no greater honor than to play for your country. How does it feel being able to play for Team Canada?

VH: It is really true, there is no greater joy than representing Canada at the highest level. It’s been a dream of mine to compete at the Olympics, but the true joy has been representing Canada for the last 13 years. I’ve grown up in the uniform and it’s helped me become the woman and softball player that I am today. I owe so much of my success to my time on the National Team, it’s truly been life-changing.

odicci alexander photo by jade hewitt.jpg

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Odicci Alexander was the champion of Athletes Unlimited's fourth softball season.

SA: The postponement of the Olympics, while expected, was still a shock to many. How were you able to handle that challenge?

VH: The postponement was actually a huge relief to me. A few days before the official postponement, I found out via Twitter that Team Canada had decided not to send their athletes to the Olympics as scheduled. Obviously, there were a ton of emotions surrounding that announcement and the uncertainty of it all. To hear that our dreams were still alive, simply postponed, was a huge relief and although it was not ideal, our team has been waiting 12 years for this opportunity, so I just tried to refocus and think of all of the positives that would come with another year of preparation, including being able to use my AU experience to help me continue to develop as a softball player to be better for our National Team next summer.

SA: What is the best advice you can give to a collegiate softball player who dreams of going pro?

VH: Find a way to continue playing! I’m playing the best softball of my life at the age of 28 and am still finding ways to get better as an athlete. So many young softball players aren’t drafted to the NPF (or now to AU) and will choose to hang up their cleats. They haven’t even reached their potential as athletes yet. If anyone dreams of going pro, I encourage them to stay around the game for as long as possible, put your name out there for professional opportunities, whether as players, practice players, managers, etc. There aren’t always rookie positions open, but if you stay involved and show your dedication, you will get a shot.

SA: What did you enjoy most about being a Husky?

VH: During my time as a Husky, I learned a ton about myself as a softball player and how to prepare like a professional. One of the things I admire most about Coach Tarr is her ability to teach athletes how to think for themselves, make their own adjustments and to be adaptable. I know my time as a Husky helped prepare me for anything I could face on the softball field, but more importantly, how to stay mentally tough through “real life” stuff, like COVID-19.

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