An injury brought a Radford High School softball player’s career to a screeching halt, but now Haley O’Brien has traded time in the circle for time n the coach’s box.
A month into her senior season, she started experiencing severe ankle pain. Doctors told her she needed surgery on her right ankle, and it turned into a season-ending injury that sadly would also be career ending.
Doctors said she had shortening of the right ankle anterior Talofibular ligament. Physical therapy for the next three months yielded little improvement. Surgery would follow.
For the remainder of her senior year (2016), O’Brien got a taste of coaching, serving as an assistant. This year, she was given the offer to become the coach of the jayvee squad.
“The opportunity honestly fell into my lap. I was loving being an assistant and part of the program in that sense. Of course, wearing black and gold is something you dream of growing up here. I never thought I would have this opportunity so quickly. When the offer was on the table, I took it,” she said.
Her ankles are better now, and she has no regrets to giving up pitching and her playing career.
“They are better than they were a year ago, so I can’t complain. I’m able to work out again and I have enjoyed that so much,” she said.
Of course, coaching has its own challenges, but she loves it. “I love the girls and their spunk and energy they bring every day. Being able to watch them grow as players and as teammates has been nothing short of amazing.”
She has brought an energetic, positive voice to the sidelines and admits she has learned to trust the process.
“We have a lot of growing to do as players. Togetherness and trusting the process are two things we talk about daily,” O’Brien said.
Being able to relate to every situation is what gives her credibility. She has been there, and the players seem to love having a coach that “gets them”.
Her main goal is to make a difference in the girls’ lives and be a positive influence.
Of course, winning a couple ball games along the way is also important, and O’Brien feels she has been called to coaching.
“If God opens the door and tells me to go, then that’s what I’ll do. But I know I’m where I’m supposed to be at this moment,” she said.
The one-time Bobcat pitcher has not played fast pitch since her injury but has thrown to her players in a practice or two. She has picked up slow pitch, playing in the Radford church league. But slow pitch, according to O’Brien, doesn’t compare to fast pitch.
“I definitely miss it. But I think about what I’m doing now as a coach, and it’s just as special,” she said.
Her memories will always be there. She finished her Radford career with a .585 batting average and 18 homers, which still stands as the school record. Her junior year, she was named first team Virginia High School Coaches Association Infield, first team Infield All-Conference 45, first team Infield 1A West Region and second team 1A All-State.
In 2013, she helped the team win the Three Rivers District Tournament.
“That was the turning point for this softball program and how people viewed us, especially community members. Besides our family members, no one came to watch our games. But the past five years, we have gained support from the community and the student body. It’s incredible. I can’t really remember specific games, but I remember all the time spent and how proud I was to wear #12 on the dirt. That is something I’ll always cherish,” she said.
Like any coach, she turned the moment back to her team.
“We have a (jayvee) team of spunky, eager girls. Half have played the game before, half have not. That’s an interesting dynamic. But I love it. They are patient and so loving with each other. Constant encouragement is given by everyone involved and things are kept in perspective. They love being teammates and that makes them want to get better every single day. I love this group and I’m proud to call myself their coach,” O’Brien concluded.