Batting with the best

Student athlete wins international softball tournament

Haidyn+was+always+athletic+by+nature%2C+but+according+to+Kelly+she+was+also+clumsy.+Instead+of+her+talent%2C+it+was+her+drive+to+improve+that+helped+her+endure+the+intense+training.

Graphic by Saloni Mistry

Haidyn was always athletic by nature, but according to Kelly she was also clumsy. Instead of her talent, it was her drive to improve that helped her endure the intense training.

By Sophia Craig, Marcus High School

As senior Haidyn Sokoloski looked down at the “USA” stitched across her jersey, she felt an overwhelming sense of pride and anxiety. She had one chance to make her country proud. This game would decide if Team USA would bring home gold.

But for Haidyn, softball is more than winning.

“It is a failing sport. It’s good to go one for three in your bat,” Haidyn said. “That’s good to get on base once in a game. It’s okay to fail and it’s okay because you will get more chances.”

• • •

Haidyn has been playing ever since her mom, Kelly, first took her to a local rec team practice when she was 8.

Haidyn remembers how she stood by the field, bawling.

“I did not want to go. But I went to this practice and the games,” Haidyn said. “And then, after that season was over, I remember thanking my mom like, ‘Thank you so much for pushing me to play the sport, because that’s when I fell in love with it.’”

Up until high school, Kelly was a serious softball player. She played on the Kingwood Diamonds and even came in 13th place in the 1984 ASA National Championships in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Haidyn said that a large part of why she initially started was because of how much her mom enjoyed the sport. Kelly never pushed Haidyn to follow her, but she always saw her daughter’s potential.

Haidyn was always athletic by nature, but according to Kelly she was also clumsy. Instead of her talent, it was her drive to improve that helped her endure the intense training.
”You knew she was going to be athletic, but she didn’t necessarily stand out or anything,” Kelly said, “But she enjoyed it.”

Haidyn started later than many players, so she struggled to keep up at first.

“I was one of the worst players,” Haidyn said. “I could not hit the ball or anything.”

After that season, Kelly decided to enroll her in a select team to play against more challenging competition who would push her to play better. Even now as one of the top players in the country, she attributes much of her success to her team when she was 9.

Senior Haidyn Sokoloski has played softball since she was 8 years old.
(Avery Jerina)

“We were very fortunate to find a team that the girls were really good and pushed her to get better,” Kelly said.

• • •

In seventh grade, Haidyn had to make a difficult decision and evaluate whether the sport was something she wanted to pursue seriously. Before NCAA rules were revised in 2018, Division 1 colleges could scout prospective students as early as 7th grade. In order to claim a spot on a school’s roster, Haidyn needed to make her decision quickly. In eighth grade, she was making decisions that would impact the rest of her softball career and life. Eventually, she committed to Oklahoma State University.

Haidyn said she was first drawn to OSU because they had hired a new coach, Kenny Gajewski, and were building up a program she felt could play in the NCAA Women’s College World Series. She was one of the first players the new coach recruited.

“He’s such a family guy and the whole team is literally one big family,” Haidyn said, “And then the school itself is the perfect college town that I wanted. And it was a perfect fit for me.”

But even as a player committed to a D1 school, Haidyn has her failures. A quick Google search of her name brings up records of countless wins and articles referring to her as a “rising star,” but as one of the top 15 players in the country, she sometimes only has one or two hits per game.

“In my mind, that’s awful,” Haidyn said. “But looking at that stat, that’s great to do that in a game because softball is so hard.”

As a freshman, she competed in the first bracket game of a Premier Girls Fastpitch tournament in California, the biggest tournament she had ever been to at the time. She struck out all four times she was up to bat and her team lost.

“I was so bad at the plate where my team needed me because I was always up with the runner in scoring position,” Haidyn said. “It was really embarrassing for me.”

In addition to high school and select sports, Haidyn was selected to represent the United States on the U-17 National Softball Team for the first time in Barranquilla, Colombia her sophomore year. The team was , made up of the best high school and college students like Haidyn who hope to someday participate in the Olympic Games.

• • •

Haidyn returned to Barranquilla for the 2021 Junior Pan American Games at the end of last year.

She arrived in the tropical country overwhelmed. She was about to meet the team she was competing with for the first time, many of which she had followed for years. Haidyn was the second youngest player on the team since most were in college.

“It was just really surreal seeing all these girls in real life, because I’ve watched these girls on TV for about a year or two years” Haidyn said.

They had less than three days to learn to play together before they would represent the country.

“It was a lot of weight and realizing as a team meant, we’re… role models to other teams and other countries,” Haidyn said.

The whole tournament lasted a week. Because of the pandemic, the experience was different the last time she competed. Each country’s team was assigned to a hotel floor and required to wear masks to leave their floor.

“We pretty much had to stay in our hotel,” Haidyn said, “Our hotel was our bubble.”

Although meals were provided by the hotel, Haidyn said she didn’t always like the food, so her dad went to the store and picked up a snack that reminded her of home.

“He brought me Nutella and bread,” Haidyn said, “Which is such an odd thing to eat. But all the girls tried it. And we literally love that now.”

• • •

On the field, Team USA dominated their competition, beating each team they went up against. By the beginning of the last day, Team USA was set to challenge Team Mexico at home. Because they had played each other the day before, Haidyn was confident of their chances.

“We knew the pitchers and we understood the batters,” Haidyn said. We had a great team of coaches looking at the batter swings and figuring out what their pitchers like.”

Run after run, the score racked up in Team USA’s favor. Eventually, they defeated Mexico 10-0, securing the gold. Despite being one of the youngest on the team, she spent a lot of time on the field. Each time she suited up to play that week, she made a TikTok in her uniform to commemorate the occasion.

“I always look back at those, just remembering how lucky I was to wear ‘USA’ across my chest,” Haidyn said.

This story was originally published on The Marquee on January 25, 2022.