Ever since she was a youngster, all Hailey Wood wanted to do was play softball. If the sun was out, she was on the diamond, making diving plays, flying around the bases and working hard to become a better player.
Now 19, Wood hasn’t changed much. Every spare minute is dedicated to softball. Her lifelong pursuit led her to the University of the Cumberlands, where her new coaches and teammates quickly realized Wood doesn’t mess around.
Playing on a team that was nationally ranked in the NAIA and returning the majority of its starting lineup, Wood worked her way into the lineup on Day 1.
When the Patriots made their debut Feb. 14, Wood was at the top of the lineup and playing third base. She started all 20 of her team’s games before the NAIA made the decision this week to cancel the rest of the 2020 season.
Competing for playing time wasn’t hard for Wood. She’s been groomed for years to play hard every second.
“Coach Gooby Martin always taught us that you fight until the end – it is never over. I am using that at the college level to know how to compete every single day,” said Wood. “We competed every day for spots in the lineup and he readied me for that mentality for college. No matter how much you are losing by, he taught us to fight because you can always come back to win.”
She’s now under the leadership of coach Bailey Dillender, who she credits for making the process of becoming a Patriot very easy.
“(Fitting in) happened very quickly. Everyone is so welcoming here,” said Wood. “Coach Dillender made sure we all felt comfortable as soon as we stepped on campus. She made sure to let us know if we were homesick or needed anything, we could always reach out to her and she would help us out.”
Wood’s talents are well known in Warren County. She was named the District 6AAA MVP as a junior and helped lead the Lady Pioneers to the program’s first district and region championships. Her hitting, speed and fierce competitiveness made her a fan favorite.
Being a dominating player was common for Wood in high school. When she got to college, it didn’t take long to figure out everybody had the potential to break a game open.
“In high school, when you were on defense you would get a break in the lineup. When you come to college, every single player you have to be ready for,” said Wood. “Every single moment you have to be ready.
“At the plate, the pitching is much more competitive in college.”
The differences weren’t just in the competition level though. Always a second baseman in high school, Wood has been moved around as a Patriot. She has made starts at third base, centerfield and left field.
Her versatility is one reason why she has been a staple in the Patriot lineup.
“My whole life I have played middle infield. Coming here, I stepped in to play any role and contribute in any way I was needed. Whether it’s third base or outfield, I’ve been able to step into a role – whatever coach asked of me,” said Wood.
Wood had her first big college moment Feb. 22 when she went deep against Grace College in a 7-1 victory. She’s also shown her biggest asset – blazing speed – at the college level, going a perfect 10-for-10 on stolen bases to lead the team. Wood also led the Patriots in runs scored.
Although her freshman season has been cut short, Wood is still doing what’s she done since she was a little girl. She’s hitting, throwing and running every day, keeping herself ready for the next time the diamond opens.
When it finally does, Wood will be back home.
(Editors's note: As sports continue to shut down, the Standard will take a look at current college athletes from Warren County. This is the first in a series of features to come.)