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Trust Helping Decker to Drive the Bus Herself
Sophomore Hailey Decker enjoys hitting between All-America players in the Husker lineup.
Photo Courtesy Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
05/15/2014
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Decker's Day: Four HRs; Eight RBIs

Randy York's N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

Hailey Decker is sandwiched between the All-America Edwards’ twins, Tatum and Taylor, in Nebraska softball’s batting order. She’s lived her entire life in the shadows of small-college All-America parents. Her father Steve was a major league catcher for four organization’s and is now the coordinator of minor-league hitting instruction for the San Francisco Giants. Her mom Maite was an All-America and Academic All-America volleyball player at Lewis-Clark State, a NAIA school in Lewiston, Idaho.

Anyone who grows up in a smart, competitive family probably appreciates the inherent pressure a 5-foot-4 bundle of energy might feel when she spurns her home state of Oregon, which had the nation’s No. 1-ranked college softball team, in favor of Nebraska. Fortunately, last year as a freshman, Nebraska won two of three NCAA Super Regional games in Eugene, Oregon, to qualify for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

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One of Softball’s Most Decorated Sophomores

Before Decker and her Husker teammates pursue another NCAA regional title in Columbia, Mo., Friday, The N-Sider seized a one-on-one interview with Decker following an indoor practice at the Alex Gordon Training Complex. Already one of college softball’s most decorated sophomore players, All-Big Ten first-teamer Decker added another accolade Thursday, joining the Edwards’ twins and teammate Emily Lockman as First-Team All-Midwest Region honorees. Sharing the 2014 Big Ten regular-season championship with Michigan has helped multiply the individual honors

A winning team is helping Decker return to the rarified air of prosperity, even if she’s not even close to the staggering four-year accumulated totals she achieved as a four-time high school all-state selection and two-time Oregon Offensive Player of the Year choice. After a profound slump that moved Decker into the lower regions of Nebraska’s batting order last year, Decker had to search her softball soul and come up with a solution that wasn’t directly connected to the collective wisdom of her always reliable parents.

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Revelle: Decker Put the Pressure on Herself

“Hailey deserves the credit for bringing herself out of what she needed last year,” 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year Rhonda Revelle said. “She put the pressure she was feeling on herself. Because of her last name, she felt incredible pressure, even though her parents have never put pressure on her.”

Husker coaches are well aware of the burden Decker feels, and the solution may have reached its peak during last year’s College World Series game against Florida. “We had a pregame conversation,” Revelle recalled. “I told Hailey I wanted her to make a commitment to believe in herself as much as we believed in her and to treat herself like she would treat her best friend.”

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Hailey Now Driving Her Own Bus with Trust

The result was freedom. “In that game, Hailey looked free at the plate,” Revelle recalled. “Florida had taken the lead, and Hailey hit a clutch homerun that closed the distance. I thought that was really an important game and sent her into her sophomore year with a different feeling. We didn’t do it. Hailey has driven her own bus on this.”

The Energy Bus is a consistent Nebraska softball theme, and Decker chose the word “trust” to guide her thoughts and help her navigate through her sophomore season. “I think there was a point where she didn’t trust last year as a freshman,” Revelle said. “She’s had a much better approach with herself and with her game. She’s trusted her preparation. She’s trusted the ebb and the flow and the ups and downs. Now that she understands that will keep cycling, she hit nearly .700 in the fall and realized she couldn’t do that in the spring. Her motor is revved constantly. That’s still something she has to temper to get to the best place, but she has the trust she needs to get there.”

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Hitting Between Edwards Twins Helpful

Being sandwiched in between All-America players in the lineup certainly helped. “I have Taylor in front of me, and she’s probably one of the scariest hitters in the country, and Tatum is behind me,” Decker said. “That means I’m going to get a lot of pitches. When you’re in between those two, they have to pitch to a 5-foot-2 midget. They give me protection and help me trust. The experience has been great.”

In terms of leadership, the Edwards twins taught Decker how to be mentally consistent. “My freshman year, I had a really rough time,” Decker recalled. “If I went 0-for-3, I was really down during the game because I put so much pressure on myself. They told me to let it go and enjoy the moment and to take one pitch at a time.” The strategy worked. “If I’m having a bad game, who cares?” Decker said. “The most important thing is to trust and be there for your teammates. That’s what I learned from the Edwards twins.”

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Staggering Numbers No Longer Realistic

Leadership isn’t easy for a short girl who had a .599 batting average during four years of high school. She also hit 43 doubles, 12 triples, 27 home runs and had150 RBIs. On top of all that, she stole 50 bases in 55 attempts and posted a .709 on-base percentage and a whopping 1.031 slugging percentage. “There’s a reason why I picked the word trust this year,” Decker told me. “The game becomes lighter when you trust your teammates. They pick me up, and I pick them up. I finally realize I don’t have to do it all on my own. Everything will move smoothly if you trust every aspect of the game.”

Decker now understands how it’s possible to be too intense. “I was so focused on stats and numbers last year, I wasn’t able to play the game the way I wanted,” she said. “Coach Revelle and I butted heads for a while. She broke me down, and when I was going through the rough part, she picked me up. She was there for me when I wasn’t there for myself. I have the utmost respect for her.”

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Decker Follows Hall-of-Fame Advice

A Hall-of-Fame coach, Revelle helped Decker adjust her sails. “She sat me down,” Decker recalled. “She explained why it’s important to be a teammate and reminded me that it’s just a game. No one’s going to look back and remember how poorly I played against Northwestern. She told me to just put on the uniform and enjoy the crowd.”

The depth of disappointment can help a gifted player reshuffle her thoughts. “It gave me a different appreciation for the game,” Decker told me. “I’ve always been an offensive player. To hit seventh or eighth in the lineup is tough on someone who’s really self-centered on the whole thing like I was. To hit that rock bottom point helped me appreciate just having the bat and being in the box. The game is so much different for me this year. I finally appreciate the game I play. I realize failure is going to happen, and when it does, I can’t take it so personally. I guess you could say I’ve lightened up.”

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Talking by Phone Routine Behavior

Hailey Decker can get as tight as a banjo string, but she’s learned to relax with her teammates. She still calls her family almost every day. “Baseball has always been my life,” she said. “My dad was gone a lot, so it became routine for me to talk to my family every day on the phone. Talking to my mom and dad is still a very important part of my life. My dad’s taught me everything. When I was 7-years-old, I told him I wanted to be a Division 1 softball player. He told me if that’s what I wanted, we needed to start working and conditioning and lifting. There was some tough love in middle school and high school, but he prepared me and my mom kept me level-headed.”

Having a dad who develops major league hitters for a living is a true blessing for a girl who wants to be a great hitter, too. Steve Decker has always told Hailey that seeing the ball is the most important part of hitting. He told her that hitting is an attitude and that competitive hitters are predators in the box. “I had a kick-boxing bag I hit for core strength,” Hailey told me. “And we had a tire that I carried around the neighborhood. I grew up dreading it, but my parents both knew that was going to get me to the place I wanted to be.”

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She Would Not Want It Any Other Way

Hailey admits there’s a difference between major league baseball and Division I softball. She didn’t see the parallel in middle school. “I didn’t really embrace wanting to learn from my dad until I was a sophomore in high school,” she said. “His schedule is so tight, he doesn’t get to see me play very often, but he made it to the College World Series, and I was glad about that because whenever my dad would come home, he’d let me analyze major league hitters with him.” The experience is different because playing for fun and playing for pay are two different things. Intensity is something she learned growing up. “Looking back,” she said, “I would not have wanted it any other way.”   

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