"A fresh start, a fine fit for Barrow"
New softball player thrives, finds happiness in new environment
Your coach thinks there is something wrong with you.
All the girls on your softball team have to run a mile and a half in 12 minutes to fully participate in practice, but you can't. It is your second year of college and you still can't make time. Every time you push yourself to run faster, you cramp up and your ribs hurt. You usually vomit.
Even you think there might be something wrong with you.
Hayley Barrow thought there was something wrong with her. Her team doctors told her there was something wrong with her gallbladder. Whatever it was, it had never been a problem before.
It was preventing her from fulfilling her potential on the softball field. She wasn't playing as much as she wanted to because she couldn't run fast enough. She thought if she could just focus on her softball skills, she could be a star.
It was hurting her confidence. She was depressed.
Barrow, now a junior catcher/third baseman on the UB softball team, asked for her release from the University of Central Florida (UCF) following her sophomore year in 2013. She thought her softball career was over. It was time to hang it up.
The emerging star who had committed to UCF following her sophomore year of high school, the girl who had been a member of the 2012 Conference USA All-Freshman team, was gone. Barrow wanted to focus on academics.
"So much energy was pulled out of me," Barrow said. "Like I said, it was a really rough time for me those past two years. So I just really thought maybe I should focus on school and I'm just gonna hang up my jersey."
Barrow's sister, Hillary, who played at UCF from 2007-10 and is now an assistant coach there, worked at a summer camp in Virginia over the summer where she met Buffalo head coach Trena Peel and assistant coach Horace Smith III.
"I loved her energy - her enthusiasm and her knowledge," Hillary said. "And I told Hayley, I said, 'I know that they're looking for some players right now and I could talk to coach Peel and coach Smith and see if maybe you could go over there. I really think that you would like the type of coaches that they are and that they could teach you a lot.'"
While at UCF, Barrow had lost her love for softball. All the focus on running had separated her from the game she had fallen in love with as a little girl.
Peel restored Barrow's love for the game.
"She made me realize that there's a lot more to the game than I thought there was," Barrow said. "And when I thought I didn't love the game anymore, I do love the game."
Barrow has been around softball fields since she was six weeks old. She is the youngest of three sisters and her oldest sister, Heather, was playing little league by the time Barrow was born. Hillary, the middle sister, started shortly after.
It wasn't long after Barrow was born that her parents knew she was different from her sisters. Michelle, Barrow's mother, described Heather and Hillary as tomboyish. Barrow was more concerned with lipstick and perfume.
Despite that difference, Barrow did everything Hillary did. Michelle and Dale, Barrow's father, were unsure if Barrow would play softball but weren't surprised when she did. When Hillary started dancing, Barrow wanted to. When Hillary went to UCF, Barrow committed to UCF.
But what came along with the territory of following in Hillary's footsteps was emulating her success.
When it came to dancing, Barrow had no problem. She was a talented dancer. When Barrow began dancing in middle school, it was an immediate hit. She won a state title in middle school and Michelle said people were asking if she would be willing to go to a special dance high school.
Once Hillary was preparing for college softball, Barrow knew she wanted to do the same.
"I had to choose between dancing and softball and that was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life," Barrow said. "But I chose softball because I loved it and I knew I could get way more out of it."
And Barrow was good. She needed to be if she wanted to be like Hillary. According to Michelle, Hillary was an "icon" in Dade County.
When Barrow was a freshman, colleges were already recruiting her. During high school, she was named first-team All-Dade County as a sophomore and was the Miami Herald's Hitter of the Year for Dade County Schools. She won the MVP High School Gatorade Award and was named second-team All-State and first-team All-Dade County as a junior.
By the time Barrow graduated high school and began at UCF, Hillary had cemented herself as one of the school's greatest players. She is the all-time leader in sacrifice flies for the Knights and ranks in the top 10 for a handful of other offensive categories.
"Hayley, as soon as she came in, was always called Hillary," Michelle said. "Nobody called her Hayley because they only knew of Hillary, even the announcers always mixed her name. If Hayley didn't perform the way her sister did, they were always comparing her and I think that was just too tough on her."
Despite a successful freshman year, Barrow was unhappy. Things didn't get better in her second season. Her play suffered along with her grades. After two seasons of college softball, she thought it was time to quit. That was when Hillary introduced her to Peel.
Every member of Barrow's family had the same reaction when Buffalo was pitched as a legitimate destination for Barrow to play softball.
"Buffalo? But Hayley has never even seen snow."
When Michelle and Barrow visited Buffalo in October, the temperature was in the 50s and 60s and they were freezing. But Barrow loved Peel's goals for the program and made plans to enroll in January.
Her trip to Buffalo proved to be an adventure. Barrow wanted to be on her own, further from her family than she had been at UCF. She wanted a fresh start.
In the weeks before Barrow enrolled at UB, the family scrambled to get her ready. They didn't know what kind of clothes she needed. Barrow had never seen snow before and she was about to live through one of the worst Buffalo winters in recent history.
She arrived on campus Jan. 9 in what Michelle called "a dump." It was a dump because Barrow had just arrived in the middle of a tundra. Barrow lived in Miami until leaving for college, during which she spent two years in Orlando. Michelle wondered how she was going to survive wintry Buffalo.
Michelle said Barrow was determined to make it work. At first, Barrow called her mother often, complaining about the blizzards and cold weather. Once, she thought she had frostbite.
But eventually, the calls became less frequent. Barrow was adapting to the cold weather.
Barrow said the most difficult part was that she did not know anyone. When she arrived at UCF in 2011, there were familiar faces with the coaches and some of the players because her sister had left only two years before.
She was starting completely new in Buffalo. She arrived on campus without a fall season to get to know people both on and off her team. Barrow's friend base has been built solely around the softball team.
Her family noticed an improvement in her physical and mental wellbeing. Peel's style of coaching - individually working with her players to bring out their best - has benefitted Barrow. Hillary said Barrow is hitting the best of her college career.
The physical problems Barrow experienced at UCF no longer bother her, and her mental state has improved immensely. Her confidence has grown, which has allowed her game and grades to excel.
"Her dad always told her, never, never give up," Michelle said. "And he gave her a sign from Winston Churchill and he always repeated that to her. And he told her, 'Please, don't do it. I don't ever want you to give up. Always go with your heart if you feel you can really do good in this game.'"
This season, she has thrived. After the adjustment of practicing in a gym, playing in colder weather and playing fewer home games, Barrow has settled in the last few weeks of the season.
"She's just driving the ball lately," Peel said. "She's so strong - her legs are so strong - she has power and she finally started to put it together, she's getting her confidence. She's solid behind the plate; she has a gun for an arm. Just as a whole, she's swinging the bat well, she's winning games for us and that's what I brought her here for."
The Bulls clinched their first outright Mid-American Conference East championship Sunday, setting the school record for wins and tying the school record for conference wins. Wednesday, the Bulls will make their third-ever appearance in the MAC Tournament.
Peel says Barrow has done a good job managing the pitching staff.
When Hillary first told Barrow about Buffalo, one of the things she explained was how Peel and Smith were going to change the culture at UB. Hillary told Barrow she could be part of that revolution.
Peel brought a fresh start for not just the softball program, but for Barrow as well. The opportunity offered to Barrow has worked out for everyone involved. In her first semester on campus - not even a full season in - the Bulls have thrived with Barrow behind the plate.