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Online exclusive: ‘Out for blood’: Hailey Smith looks to hit softball season out of park

Courtesy+of+Colorado+State+Athletics
Courtesy of Colorado State Athletics

Pitchers, be wary.

Colorado State softball had an unexpected end to the season after being upset by No. 6 Nevada a season ago. That game is still on the mind of outfielder Hailey Smith, who is shaping up to be one of the best hitters in the Mountain West this season.

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“The only words that come to mind (are), like, ‘out for blood,'” Smith said. “I feel like we have such amazing players on this team this year. I just see all-around talent everywhere, even with some of the freshmen and stuff. I feel like we’re going to make some impact, and I’m very excited to see what we can accomplish.”

After leading the team with 12 home runs last year, Smith certainly seems ready for a jump forward — maybe to 15 or 16. But that’s not a number she’s concerned with. In fact, it’s not something she’s thinking about at all.

“I honestly have this weird superstition where I can’t talk about the home runs because I feel like I’m going to jinx myself or something,” Smith said. “I’m just looking for solid at-bats, doing things that score runs or move the runner, honestly. And then if home runs and power comes, then I’m very excited about it.”

With her breakout season last year, the opposing pitchers aren’t just going to throw a fastball down the middle for Smith to feast on.

That brings her a new challenge: Her at-bats now become a mind game. That added dimension of playing the ball count will be a big part of Smith’s upcoming season — something that has been one of the focal points of her offseason. 

“I feel like knowing the type of hitter that I am (and) understanding the type of pitches that I am going to get and being OK with the walks and less strikeouts are my main thing,” Smith said. “Because I feel like just getting on base with the walks or swinging at better pitches will just add more runs.”

That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges of her upcoming season. After all, it’s not just a walk in the park to be able to change your entire mentality around the way you hit.

But Smith’s competitive nature is incredibly obvious, and in a game that’s just as mental as it is physical, she’s become accustomed to the grind.

“I really saw that last year where she started to understand it’s a game of inches,” CSU softball coach Jen Fisher said. “She’s really starting to celebrate the little things, where before she wasn’t really giving herself any credit for the small things. Like even just laying off of a marginal pitch or just every detail if hitting. She’s starting to celebrate those details, and I love it because her maturity over the years has been like, ‘When coach gives me a compliment, I should accept it,’ where before she was like, ‘No, that’s not good enough.'”

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The work Smith has put in certainly seems to be noticed by her teammates. 

While you will never be able to take that competitive fire away from Smith, she has learned to harness in a way that is beneficial to the team. While fierce on the field, she does a good job at balancing that off the field.

“Oh, my God, she’s hilarious,” CSU outfielder Molly Gates said. “She’s really fun. But when she’s on the field, she’s locked in and just really passionate. And then off the field, she’s just fun (and) goofy — she’s like Barbie. She loves Fortnite, she’s silly, but she’s fun to be around, and she’s really fun to play with and compete with.”

Camaraderie on and off the field has been one of the biggest that Fisher has really noticed with her group over the years.

Smith is a big part of that and that interconnectedness of the team has made them want to work that much harder for each other.

“What’s really fun for me is to have the seen growth of her relationship with her teammates get deeper,” Fisher said. “And this group of seniors and fifth-year seniors is very, very tight. I think they know themselves, and they know each other, and a comment I heard from Ashley York which I thought was a really great comment was, ‘I know what to say to Hailey,’ and Ashley as a lead-off, she has a big role in kind of reporting back in what we’re seeing. Does it match the scout? How can we counter what the pitcher is trying to do to us? And Ashley becomes almost the same way the catcher is the quarterback of the defense. … This group has spent so much time together, and they’re friends off the field, and they really understand each other.  … You can’t just hear it from the coach; you have to hear it from your teammates.”

Softball is certainly in Smith’s DNA. Outside of the work she puts in with her teammates and Fisher, she also practices with her mom, Jennifer Morandini, known as Jennifer Brewster when she played at UCLA and won the 1995 NCAA National Championship with the Bruins. Between both Fisher and Morandini, it’s no wonder Smith ranks at the top of the MW in home runs. 

“Well, I know she stays in close contact with her mom,” Gates said. “And Hailey, whenever she feels something wrong with her swing, she’ll be like, ‘Hey, let me take a video of it, let me talk to the coaches, let me talk with my mom.’”

That championship experience by Smith’s mom has been huge on her development into the level of player she has become.

Morandini has truly helped shape Smith into one of the most feared hitters in the entire Mountain West.

“My mom’s been my hitting coach my whole life,” Smith said. “So having someone that close understand the basis of ‘okay this is the easy step-by-step this is what your swing is supposed to look like if I just feel a little off is really nice.’ And then her moving out here, because she’s originally from California, it’s really nice just like Molly said. … She’s juts gets the game and learning from her, just the mental part of it has also just helped me I feel excel at the game.”

Excel and exceed are going to be a big part of the Preseason All-Mountain West selection. While Smith was picked to repeat as an all-conference selection the Rams were voted to finish third in the preseason poll.

That’s where they ended the regular season last year before that loss to Nevada, but with an increased fire and the season right around the corner — with their first tournament start Feb. 9 — CSU softball certainly has an exciting element to it.

“I’m most excited about how they are,” Fisher said. “I feel like this team has a great deal of autonomy and freedom and independence to play the game the way that they know how to play the game. We had such a great fall. We played a very competitive Nebraska team three games. And over all the years I’ve been coaching, I feel like I had to do the least amount of like, ‘Hey, you need to be communicating.’ … They’re running things by themselves, the ideas are flowing there, there’s accountability. With nine seniors, they know their routines, and they’re able to think about the game and let the game come to them.”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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About the Contributor
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.

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