Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Victoria Hayward Steps Into Justin's World

Photo credit: Bridget Raftery
The name Victoria Hayward is one that will be familiar to fans of every level of the game of softball - whether college, professional, or international softball is your cup of tea, Hayward has made an impact and left a mark in every place she's suited up.

A three-time all-conference selection and an all-American her senior year, Hayward's purple-and-gold trophy case is filled nearly to the max.

She joined Team Canada in 2009; a junior in high school, she was the youngest-ever member of the National Team. Despite the sport's elimination from the Olympic Games, Hayward continues to suit up with a maple leaf on her jersey every summer.

Drafted by the Pennsylvania Rebellion in 2014, following her final and arguably best collegiate season, Hayward did not to play in the league, instead continuing to concentrate her attention fully on the Canadian national squad.

In 2015, though, she followed the lead of former teammate and fellow Canuck Jenny Gilbert in splitting her summer between the NPF and Team Canada.

After spending the 2015 collegiate season in the Bayou as a graduate assistant for the LSU Tigers, Hayward was named an assistant coach at UMass for 2016, where she will join fellow Husky alum and former teammate Kaitlin Inglesby.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball?
Victoria Hayward: My softball playing days started shortly after moving to Northern California at the age of 8.  My Dad signed me up for the local softball league and volunteered to coach.  The local disposal company, Foothill Disposal, sponsored our team so naturally we called ourselves the “Garbage Girls” (although our official name was the “Snapping Turtles”).  That year I made the Mountain View All-Star team with a bunch of my friends, and the rest is history!   

Justin’s World: Why UDub? What did you like about the school and program that made you say "this is where I want to spend my college years"?
Victoria Hayward: The first time I set foot on the campus of the University of Washington, I was a senior in high school and it was my “official visit”. Even for a few years ago, that was incredibly late in the process and I was truly lucky that Washington even had a place for me. Having played the summer after my junior year in high school alongside Huskies Danielle Lawrie and Jenn Salling, I knew a lot about the culture of the program long before I witnessed any of it for myself.  I had toured the Seattle-area before, driving by and admiring the campus from afar, but once I was given the grand tour and saw how I would fit, I fell in love.  The cherry on top, sealing the deal, was when I had the chance to try on one of the uniforms – getting the chills as I looked in the mirror and showed my family.  My dream had always been to compete in the Pac-12 (Pac-10 at the time) and the academics, beautiful campus, amazing stadium and family culture were unmatched by any school that I had ever visited. I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be: in the purple and gold. 

Justin’s World: What was/is your favorite part of being a Huskie?
Victoria Hayward: My favorite part about being a Husky is being a part of the amazing athletic community.  As a student-athlete, this meant supporting fellow athletes at their games/events, being a part of the leadership group WASAAC, eating dinner together every night in the crew boathouse, and creating friendships with people and fans that I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life.  As an alum, I am still connected to the athletic community no matter whether I am in Seattle working out in the weight room or across the world pursuing my dreams. I can constantly feel the support of Washington and all of the fans.

Justin’s World: What is your favorite moment or memory from your career?
Victoria Hayward: My favorite memory from my career was winning the Super Regional at Missouri in 2013.  Those two games were THE most competitive and intense games of softball I have ever been a part of.  Individually, it stands as my favorite memory because I hit in the game-winning run with an RBI double in the 8th inning of game one and a leadoff home run that stood to be the game winning run in game two to send us to the World Series.  Just thinking about it makes me smile.  Aside from my performance, the games highlighted stellar pitching by both teams and SportsCenter Top-10 plays on defense – I mean, can you ask for anything more?!

Justin’s World: Who was the toughest opponent you have faced, either an individual or team?
Victoria Hayward: The toughest opponent that I have ever faced is Team Japan. I am continually amazed by the way they play the game – the speed and precision.  Although we have beaten them a number of times, when push comes to shove and the stakes are high, they are one tough team to beat. Not to mention the fact that I am still searching for my first hit off of Ueno… it’s coming though.

Justin’s World: Tell me about playing for Team Canada and the pride you felt the first time you stepped on the field in the red and white with a maple leaf on your jersey.
Victoria Hayward: The first time I had the privilege of wearing Canada across my chest, I was just 16 years old. I was in awe of the amazing players around me, eager to learn and grateful for the opportunity to compete at the highest level.  As a member of the national team, I have grown, both on and off of the field, more than I ever could have imagined.  Seven years later, through all of the ups and the downs, I am one of the most seasoned veterans, a team captain, and cherish (more than ever) every single chance I get to put on that uniform and represent my country.  The pride I felt that first day pales in comparison to the pride I feel every single day as a member of that team.  

Justin’s World: Give me your thoughts on the sport of softball's potential return to the Olympic Games. If it does make its return as an Olympic sport, what will that mean for the game as a whole, in your opinion?
Victoria Hayward: Softball is a sport that deserves to be in the Olympics, no question.  Fortunately, I think that there is a very good chance that it returns for 2020. Just a few years ago, it was clear that the softball world was dominated by a few key players: Japan, the US, Australia and Canada (woohoo!).  Although for the most part it still is, teams like Mexico and Puerto Rico are making huge progress and are proving that they can compete at the highest level.  Every year that softball remains out of the Olympics, the funding available decreases – so much that for several countries, players actually have to pay to play.  Bringing softball back to the Olympics will give countries the funding they need to keep supporting softball – enabling teams to continue playing and travelling all over the world… continuing to grow the game.

Justin’s World: Describe to me the feeling when you found out you were drafted to the NPF. Additionally, tell me about the decision to continue to concentrate solely on Team Canada and not play in the league directly out of school.
Victoria Hayward: Playing in the NPF had been a dream of mine since I learned about the existence of National Pro Fastpitch.  Although I had summer commitments to Team Canada, I knew that it was something I wanted to pursue in the future, whether it be that summer or five years in the future.  I remember watching the live stream of the Draft from my room and I started to lose hope as the number of draft picks dwindled down (there were only 20 in the 2014 Draft) and then, I heard my name! I was so grateful that the Rebellion would draft me even though they didn’t even know if I would be able to play! That summer I had all intention of playing for both the Rebellion and Team Canada – unfortunately, the ISF World Championship, in the Netherlands, was scheduled for August and because I would be missing the entire post-season, we were unable to come to an agreement for that summer. 

Justin’s World: Continuing the timeline, what factored into your decision to split 2015 between Team Canada and the NPF? What was it like in the NPF playing with many former foes and against so many former teammates?
Victoria Hayward: Unlike the NPF, which has a relatively consistent schedule stretching from the end of May to mid-August, the schedule of international competitions varies drastically from year to year.  This summer, it so happened that the commitment with Softball Canada was just over a month long, which left me almost half of the NPF season to play.  The Rebellion had expressed their willingness to work around my schedule and I jumped on the opportunity to experience both!  My few weeks in the NPF were awesome.  It was so fun getting to play alongside and learn from many of the girls that I competed against throughout my career at Washington, especially the girls I faced year in and year out in the Pac-12: Dallas Escobedo, Cheyenne Cordes and Alexa Peterson.  The level of competition in the league is no-joke but it was amazing the team chemistry and life long friendships that our team was able to create in such a short amount of time. 

Justin’s World: Talk to me about your recent injury; how went the surgery and what is your expected recovery time? How difficult is it to have your season end so suddenly on that note, and will it hamper your plans to play in 2016?
Victoria Hayward: On July 1st, which ironically is Canada Day, I tore my ACL and partially tore my Meniscus in a play at the plate. I was able to walk off of the field and jog a little up and down the sidelines but I just knew that something was wrong.  The next day, my Dad took me to get an MRI and just two weeks later I was home having surgery.  Saying goodbye to my team(s) and my summer of softball was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Throughout my career I had never missed so much as a game due to injury so the whole “injury” thing was entirely new to me.  I was confined to my bed, unable to walk, as I watched/read (thank you Twitter) my team take home Gold against Team USA at the Pan Am Games.  Being confined to my bed as my two squads went on without me was truly heartbreaking and I honestly would not have been able to get through it without the constant support of my teammates (from both teams), coaches, opposing team’s coaches, fans and everyone that reached out to me.

Fortunately, the surgeon said that my surgery could not have gone more perfectly and that I would be back in action, at 100% in 9 months – giving me just enough time to prepare for the 2016 season.

Justin’s World: What are your long-term plans as far as your playing career is concerned?
Victoria Hayward: In terms of my playing career long-term, I want to play as long as my body will let me! If/when softball returns to the Olympics in 2020, I plan on being there!  I joined the National Team the year after the 2008 Olympics and I don’t think that I could hang up my cleats without at least trying to make it.   

Justin’s World: Outside of Victoria Hayward, the player, Victoria Hayward, the coach has shown up, already spending time (briefly) with Seattle U as well as LSU, and now with your first full-time gig at UMass. Is coaching something you plan to do long-term; to term it one way, is that your career of choice?
Victoria Hayward: If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said that I was simply going with the flow and taking advantage of opportunities.  Now, after a year under my belt, it is much more than that for I have truly found my passion for coaching and sharing my knowledge of the game with others.  I don’t know what to expect as an assistant coach but I welcome the challenge and am so excited to be a part of the tradition that is UMass softball. 

Justin’s World: Let's end things with my favorite question! Say you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but can take three things with you. No boats, no phones. People and animals do count, if you want them to. What would you take?

Victoria Hayward: I would bring sunscreen, my Kindle full of books and my brother Kristian… who is a wilderness man and could manage survival and escaping the island while I enjoyed a little beach vacation!

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