A back injury put Crater High's Haley Hevern on the sideline her freshman season.
Nothing, however, has stood in the way of Hevern's progress since that time as she was recently named the Southern Sky Conference softball player of the year following a stellar senior season.
The three-year starter, who's played the last two years at shortstop, batted .452 in league with three home runs and 10 RBIs out of the No. 3 spot in the order to lead Crater to an SSC championship.
"I'm really, really happy about it," said Hevern of the award. "I put a lot of hard work in during the summer and it's always nice to see it pay off like that.
"I couldn't have done something like this without my teammates."
Crater placed a league-best five competitors on the first team, with Susan Winningham (senior catcher), Ashleigh Cuddie (senior pitcher), Ashleigh Larson (junior second baseman) and Emily Morrill (junior center fielder) all joining Hevern.
Cuddie posted an 11-0 mark in SSC play and was named pitcher of the year, while Crater's Chris Arnold took home coach-of-the-year honors after leading the Comets to an 11-1 mark in the SSC and a 23-3 overall record in the regular season.
Eagle Point placed senior shortstop Terrah Whipple and senior center fielder Carissa Schauffler on the first unit, while Ashland had four first-teamers in Bella Pribyl (sophomore pitcher), Samantha Gilbert (junior infielder), Amanda Good (sophomore utility) and Hayley Ross (freshman outfielder).
Hevern's progression to player-of-the-year status didn't come easy.
She noticed a stiffness in her back her freshman season during volleyball that didn't subside right away. Doctors found a fracture and fitted Hevern with a back brace for eight weeks that wiped out her basketball and softball campaigns.
Hevern said her doctors thought the injury originated when she competed in youth gymnastics as a kid.
"I didn't think I'd be able to come back and play sports to the fullest after that," Hevern said. "(The brace) was kind of a Forrest Gump-style thing I had to wear around. That was hard."
Hevern's first year back as a sophomore wasn't an easy one either, she said.
"I think I got like two hits the whole year," said Hevern. "I think it was because I wasn't really confident and I was a little hesitant."
Since that point, though, Hevern has been on a tear.
She moved from second base to shortstop last season and has held the position the last two years.
"We definitely always knew she was a sound fielder," said Crater coach Chris Arnold. "I think we hit her sixth or seventh her first year. Last year and this year she's hit No. 3 and she always produced."
Hevern, who will play softball and volleyball at Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, Idaho, next year, competed on the Oregon Panthers 18 Gold team during the summer. The Salem-based squad took 13th place out of 115 teams in the Colorado Fireworks tournament in Aurora, Colo.
"It was a tough summer," said Hevern. "I practically lived in Salem.
"To go to that and play against some of the best players definitely helped my confidence. That and I've grown a lot mentally. That's been a big thing."
Hevern's teammates also did their part in helping the Comets reach the Class 5A state semifinal game, which will be held this Tuesday in Central Point against Corvallis.
Winningham, a speedy leadoff hitter, batted .405 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in SSC action.
"Susan makes things happen," said Arnold. "She's always looking to create something and is always thinking ahead."
Morrill hit a team-best .515 with one homer, 17 runs and nine RBIs in the No. 2 spot, and Larson batted .368 with six RBIs at cleanup.
"Both of those kids are steady, quiet leaders," said Arnold of Morrill and Larson. "They are both definitely clutch performers."
On the mound, Cuddie posted a miniscule 1.12 ERA with 58 strikeouts in just under 63 innings pitched. For the season, Cuddie went 18-1 with a 1.85 ERA.
Eagle Point, which will play Glencoe Tuesday in the other 5A semifinal contest, raced to the SSC's No. 2 seed behind the strong all-around play of Whipple and Schauffler.
Whipple hit around .423 with four home runs and 18 RBIs overall, while Schauffler batted .276.
But it was their defense that made Eagle Point tough to beat.
"Defensively, Carissa is very good," said Eagle Point coach Keith Williams. "She covers a lot of ground in center field.
"Whipple has great range and gets to a lot of balls other shortstops in the league don't get."
For Ashland, Pribyl pitched the Grizzlies to the school's first-ever state-playoff win in softball — a 5-1 decision over Silverton on May 18.
Ashland finished with the No. 3 seed from the SSC a year after finishing winless in the Southern Oregon Conference.
Crater also had Kara Perdue (infield), Kristen Haga (outfield) and Amanda Bates (outfield) make the second team, while Becca Lokeno (infield) earned honorable mention status.
Eagle Point placed pitcher Kirsten Emigh and infielder Katie Jolliffe on the second team, and Brooke Griggs (catcher), Carlie Stephens (pitcher), Tenille Anderson (infield) and Dawn Wilkerson (infield) on the honorable mention list.
Ashland had two second-teamers — catcher Kylie Cantrell and infielder Sara Silbowitz — and had two honorable mention honorees in outfielders Carley Santer and April Jorgensen.
All-Southern Sky Softball
Player Pos. School Yr.
Susan Winningham C Crater Sr.
Ashleigh Cuddie P Crater Sr.
Bella Pribyl P Ashland So.
Haley Hevern IF Crater Sr.
Ashleigh Larson IF Crater Jr.
Terrah Whipple IF Eagle Point Sr.
Samantha Gilbert IF Ashland Jr.
Amanda Good UT Ashland So.
Emily Morrill OF Crater Jr.
Carissa Schauffler OF Eagle Point Sr.
Hayley Ross OF Ashland Fr.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Haley Hevern, Crater.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR — Ashleigh Cuddie, Crater.
COACH OF THE YEAR — Chris Arnold, Crater.
Player Pos. School Yr.
Kylie Cantrell C Ashland Jr.
Kirsten Emigh P Eagle Point Sr.
Ali Edwards P Mazama So.
Kara Perdue IF Crater Jr.
Katie Jolliffe IF Eagle Point Jr.
Sara Silbowitz IF Ashland So.
Chelsea Whiteley IF Mazama Jr.
Darian Grigsby IF Mazama So.
Kristen Haga OF Crater Sr.
Amanda Bates OF Crater Jr.
Ashlie McDaniel OF Mazama Sr.
HONORABLE MENTION — Brooke Griggs, C, Eagle Point, Sr.; Carlie Stephens, P, Eagle Point, Fr.; Becca Lokeno, IF, Crater, Sr.; Tenille Anderson, IF, Eagle Point, Sr.; Dawn Wilkerson, IF, Eagle Point, Sr.; Ann Marie Bocchi, OF, Mazama, Sr.; Carley Santee, OF, Ashland, Fr.; April Jorgensen, OF, Ashland, Sr.
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org