Based on a small sample size, the early results of a new swing for Haley Woolf are positive.
Unfortunately, the Blue Springs South graduate got to only play 23 games this year for the University of Evansville before the COVID-19 pandemic brought an early end to her sophomore season.
Woolf swatted five home runs this season, the same number she had during her freshman season in 45 games.
"Our team likes to focus on home runs," said Woolf, who is back home in Blue Springs. "Our assistant coach (Heather Tarter) did a lot of research and a new philosophy as well, where we are trying to hit home runs. We have a lot of girls with a lot of power on our team, and I was looking forward to this year. I was hoping to get a few more at home this year and looking to next year, I definitely want to continue where I was this season."
She learned the swing last year and through the middle of last season, she started to get used to it. The Aces, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, emphasize launch angle and getting the ball up in the air. The thought is similar to what many Major League Baseball players do: try to get the ball out of the park or get the ball into the gaps.
The left-handed hitting first baseman had 18 hits this year – 11 of them for extra bases. Her five home runs were fifth best in the league and led Evansville. She added five doubles and a triple.
She was first on Evansville with 18 RBIs, which was fourth-best in the MVC.
"The year was going well, I was sad to see it end so early," Woolf said.
Her best game this year came on Feb. 29 against Northern Illinois in the Blues City Classic in Memphis.
She went 3-for-4 with three home runs and seven RBIs in a 12-3 victory.
That game made a bracket-style voting contest Evansville did called "Aces Moment Bracket" on Twitter in April.
Woolf made the semifinals after upsetting a No. 1 seed in Anna Lowry, a cross country runner who earned All-MVC honors. The third-seeded Woolf then made the semifinals and lost a heartbreaker, 51-49 percent – to volleyball player Gabriela Macedo, who had a school-record 46 digs against Drake.
"It was cool to see how many people would retweet it and go out and vote," she said. "It was cool to see all the votes we got. I never expected to get that many votes. It was pretty awesome that many people went and voted for it. The girl I went up against (Macedo) had just a few more votes. It was a good competition without sports going on."
She got a surprise retweet from Mike Swanson, the Royals’ vice president of communication/broadcasting, who is a family friend. Woolf said no one in the family asked him to do it, rather Swanson did it to show support and surely some of his 15,000-plus followers saw it.
Woolf hit all five of her home runs in the final nine games before the pandemic canceled the remainder of the season.
"My coach (Mat Mundell) came up to me and he was talking to one of our pitchers and said, ‘You know what? I think Woolf will have a home run this game,’" Woolf recalled. "It was pretty funny to hit three of them. It was a good breakout point."
Mundell was happy with Woolf’s progress
"Haley worked really hard and had a great freshman year and she just got stronger this year," Mundell said. "She was on pace to have a really good year before it got shortened. She had a great weekend in Memphis. She had three home runs in one game. She was getting more comfortable at the plate, getting stronger and seeing that in the numbers. I think her power numbers will continue to go up."
The three-homer game was the second of her career. Her first came in high school in the 2017 sectional playoffs against Camdenton, a 21-5 victory. That year, the Jaguars reached the state finals but lost 2-0 to Marquette.
She wrapped up school last week and is currently taking online summer school classes. When the coronavirus regulations started popping up in March, Evansville was on spring break and the players were still on campus. They were sent home for two weeks with hopes of coming back and finishing out the season. A day after getting back to Blue Springs, the news broke that the season was over.
Though the season was over she still had a chance to get work in at local parks before they were shut down. Now, she is hitting off a tee in her back yard and working out in the basement.
"Hopefully here soon I can go back to the field and get a gym membership to do that stuff," said Woolf, a health service administration major. "It was very weird. As a student-athlete we were busy nonstop and my days were so scheduled as to when to do homework and when to practice. I had to do my homework on my time and when to study for a test and when I needed to squeeze in hitting on a tee. It was odd to plan that on my own and not have that schedule routine as usual."
Coming out of high school, Maryville University was the only other school to offer Woolf. She also had some interest from Northwest Missouri State University and Lindenwood but picked the Division I school she didn’t know a ton about originally.
The Evansville coaching staff saw Woolf playing for KC Gold in the summer before her senior year and expressed interest. All 13 players on that team ended up playing at a Division I or Division II school. Her summer teammates included Kelsey Lewis and Payton Minnis, both at Missouri State; Easton Sieb at Valparaiso; Alana Vawter at Stanford and Reggie Kanagawa at BYU.
"It was pretty cool just getting to see where we all ended up and playing against some of them is obviously different," Woolf said.
Given an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 cancellation, Woolf will have the chance to face her former teammates for an extra year. Her junior season – academically – is slated to start back on Aug. 26.