If it weren’t for her little brother, Lauren Haeger wouldn’t have played softball in Colombia in early August.
When they were younger, Haeger said she watched her brother play baseball and came to a realization: “If he could do it, I could do it.”
Haeger turned that can-do attitude into a spot on the USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team. The Deer Valley High School senior recently returned from the III Pan American Championship (18-Under) in Bogota, Colombia in time for the start of the school year and volleyball season. She’s a starting outside hitter for the Skyhawks.
But it’s softball that has captured her heart, and playing for her country is a dream come true, she said.
“Just looking down and seeing the United States on my jersey and playing for my country was an amazing experience,” Haeger said. “It was definitely exciting traveling to another country and an eye opener. It was a once in a lifetime thing and it made me more thankful for what I have here.”
Haeger, who has named the 2009 and 2010 Northwest Region player of the year, added to her trophy case while at the Pan American Games when the U.S. took home the gold medal with a 3-1 win against Canada. She also combined with fellow Glendale resident Dallas Escobedo (St. Mary’s High School) to pitch a no-hitter against Colombia during the first round of the qualification round.
“It’s pretty cool to have a gold medal by the age of 17,” said Haeger who has committed to the University of Florida. “That’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Along with the U.S., Canada, bronze medalist Puerto Rico and fourth-place finisher Brazil all earned a trip to the the next International Softball Federation Junior Women’s World Championship, December 2011, in Cape Town, South Africa. Haeger expects the competition to be that much tougher because they’ll face teams from Japan and Taiwan, but it’s a challenge she readily accepts.
The lone disappointment may be the fact the Internationl Olympic Committee pulled softball from the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Many fans in the U.S. don’t understand the IOC’s decision, including Haeger and it’s unfortunate, she said, because there aren’t very many team-oriented female sports in the Olympics.
“We were told a little about the situation (with Olympic softball),” Haeger said. “Everyone is doing what they can to get softball back in the Olympics. No one liked to see it go because it’s such a great sport for the Olympics.”
Softball is up for reinstatement for the 2020 Olympics. However, a decision will not be made until 2013, after the London Games.
While Haeger bides her time until the South Africa championships, she still has a senior year to complete at Deer Valley and start her college career at the University of Florida, which she committed to recently.
“As a sophomore, I played in a California recruiting tournament and afterward my coach set up a call with their recruiter,” Haeger said. “We set up a visit and I fell in love with the school.”
In the near future, the senior pitcher will look to expand her Skyhawk records in career homeruns and earn her third straight player of the year award while one of her biggest supporters watch from the first base coaching box — her dad Fred Haeger. The Deer Valley pitcher admitted it will be hard to leave but is welcoming the new challenge of college softball.
“It’s been good here,” Haeger said. “I love the coaches and we have a great program here.”