CEDAR RAPIDS — Haley Jones was destined to play softball.
The Coe senior has continued her family’s legacy on a diamond, joining a line of shortstops that includes her dad, Jeff, an aunt and her late grandfather. They may have placed the glove and bat in her hands, but she developed a love of her own for the sport.
“I came from a background where a lot of my family played softball or baseball,” Jones said. “It ran in my blood.
“My family introduced me to the sport, but I learned to love it and the mentality of a softball player, being in a team sport.”
Jones, the reigning conference Player of the Year, leads second-seeded Coe into the American Rivers Conference tournament hosted by regular-season champion Central in Pella, beginning Friday. The Kohawks (31-8, 11-5) received a first-round bye, facing the winner between No. 3 Wartburg and No. 6 Simpson in Saturday’s semifinals of the single-elimination bracket.
“Softball has been a big part of my life for the last 15 years,” Jones said. “With this being my last season, it’s good to go out with a bang with my teammates, being the No. 2 seed in the tournament.”
Jones’ first memories of throwing a ball and swinging a bat were formed at the Nashua farm of her grandparents, Raymond and Karel Jones. They were active supporters, attending games and serving as a reminder of the early days.
“When I was younger, my grandpa and grandma had this big yard where we always played wiffle ball together, whether we were celebrating holidays or whatever,” Jones said. “I remember those moments as a kid, playing with grandma and grandpa, who have unfortunately passed. I have those kind of memories where they would always cheer me on, playing in their yard or in high school.
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“My grandma came to every game. She moved when I went to college and when she would come to any of my collegiate games it would take me back to her backyard. It makes me miss her.”
Jones has become a pillar in the Coe program. Last year, she led the conference with a .474 batting average, .531 on-base percentage and 46 total bases. She ranked among the league leaders in seven more categories.
Interestingly, Coe Coach Diane Meyer noticed her while scouting another player. The former Waterloo West prep quickly impressed her future coach with quickness, aggressiveness and a competitive nature, crashing into fences trying to make a couple plays.
“It’s those kind of things you notice about a kid and if they are putting in an extra effort,” Meyer said. “Haley, in my opinion, has always done that.
“She’s a natural athlete, a super athlete.”
Jones said last year’s production motivated her to work even harder in the offseason to be better. The effort has paid dividends.
She leads NCAA Division III in total bases (121), runs per game (1.49) and ranks second nationally with 65 hits. She is in the top three in doubles and triples, eighth in slugging percentage and 16th with an A-R-C best .500 batting average.
“She’s literally been one of the hardest workers on the team with strength and conditioning in and out of season,” Meyer said. “She’s just a super hard worker. Everything she does is with passion and energy.
“She doesn’t want to lose. She wants to be the kid you can count on to get it done, whatever it is.”
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Jones admitted that she exceeded her expectations when she first joined the program. The compliments she received from her father may mean more than any honors.
“Softball has been big in my personal relationship with me and my dad,” Jones said. “To say that I’ve made him proud and to do things to exceed his expectations just makes me proud to be his daughter and a softball player.”
The Kohawks were the regular-season champs last season and fell in the tournament finals. Jones said it will take a total team effort to earn the A-R-C’s automatic postseason berth and Coe’s first conference tournament title since 2009.
“This is one of the best teams I have ever played on (and) the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Jones said. “I’m glad they are by my side with me through my final year of my softball career at Coe. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.”
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