Going to different colleges hasn’t been able to keep Ashton Whiles, Emily Mikkola and Hailey Wood apart on the softball field. The trio of former Lady Pioneers don’t get to play every day with each other anymore, but for the last four seasons, they still get to have reunions on the diamond.
The trio have already completed a round robin of matchups this year while playing big roles at their respective colleges. Whiles has been a big bat in the lineup for Cumberland University, Mikkola has moved back to her home at shortstop for Tennessee Wesleyan and Wood is the speedster atop the lineup for the University of the Cumberlands.
In the last month, they have had a chance to suit up against each other, making sure their last forays on the diamond end with fun and fierce competition. Wood has the leg up for bragging rights currently as her Patriots swept Whiles’ Phoenix back in February and recently took a game from Mikkola and the Bulldogs last week. Mikkola and Whiles have already seen each other twice this year, with their respective teams splitting both series in Lebanon and Athens.
Winning is all that matters to the star softball players when they step between the lines, but the breaks after the games are all about catching up with their friends. Whiles, Wood and Mikkola developed their talents together from a young age, with their talents helping to power Warren County to two district championships and a region title before graduating in 2019.
They haven’t forgotten those moments together as teammates, even though their choices of colleges have made them competitors in the last four seasons.
“Seeing (Ashton and Hailey) each year has been like a taste of home. It reminds me of where I came from and how I got to where I am,” said Mikkola, a four-year starter for the Bulldogs who is .330 for her 22-win squad.
Wood added, “We all reached our goal of playing college softball and have been successful the whole times. I am so proud of them and I am so lucky to have them as lifelong friends.”
Wood has seen her team soar to a 22-2 start this year, including the four wins over her friends’ teams. University of the Cumberlands has achieved its highest NAIA rank in school history this year, jumping up to No. 13 in the country as of March 8. Wood, an all-timer in a Patriot jersey, is a big reason why.
The queen of speed has a chance to leave her school with multiple school records. She already broke the record for walks in a single season (34 in 2021) and has a chance to leave Kentucky with career records in walks, doubles, triples and stolen bases. Wood has swiped 110 bases in her career, a mark that would be much higher if not for her first season being cut short due to COVID.
She’s also in the top three in runs scored in Patriot history.
Wood had one of her biggest hits of the year against Cumberland University, ripping a go-ahead, two-run double on Feb. 24 when the Patriots beat the Phoenix 3-1.
Mikkola has the only homer during the battle of the former Lady Pioneers, sending a moon shot out in a win on March 8. Her three-run home run was part of a 5-0 win over Whiles and the Phoenix.
Mikkola and Whiles have already had their final reunion, but Wood and Mikkola won’t take the field for the last time together until April 19. Wood and the Patriots are scheduled to make a trip to Athens to face Mikkola and the Bulldogs, a game that is sure to bring up some emotions for the pair.
All the meetings this year already have, particularly with the group looking to move forward in their educations after this season.
“This year is a little bittersweet. It’s always fun to see Emily and Ashton – we grew up together and played ball together our whole lives. Knowing I took the field with them for the last time, even though we are on different teams, is sad but fulfilling,” said Wood.
Mikkola also called the reunions “bittersweet,” and added, “it’s also the beginning of yet another chapter. I know we will all be in Warren County more once we graduate and I’m so excited just thinking about it.”
It sounds like the trio is already planning more reunions in the future. Odds are, softball will be always be a topic of conversation when they get together.