WATCH: Hayden Leading Ragin’ Cajuns Into 2017 Season
Every player on this year's squad will tell you the same name when leadership comes for the Ragin' Cajuns: Haley Hayden.
Hayden is entering her senior year for Louisiana, and she's always been one of the most vocal players on the team. She's the undisputed leader for the Ragin' Cajuns, and she's making the message clear this year to all their supporters.
"We still have something to prove," Hayden said without hesitation. "We did lose a lost last year, but we're not making excuses this year. We've been preparing for that, and we're just going to go out there and not limit ourselves. No excuses, we're going to go out there and compete and try to make a run for this."
For Hayden, leadership comes easily. Even as an underclassman, she still was regarded as one of the most ferocious competitors and vocal players on the team.
The entire team is looking to her for guidance, reassurance and she's never scared to light the necessary fire underneath them to reach their goals. She's comfortable in her role, but she wanted to make it clear that she's not a dictator.
"I like to talk a lot, I've always been vocal on the field, but I like to lead by example, not really by slapping a whip around or something," Hayden joked.
The younger players follow her lead, and she also tries to lead by example on a daily basis.
It seems like just yesterday, Hayden was a freshman on the squad, surprising fans and softball teams around the country with her lively bat and fiery attitude. The intensity on the field hasn't dwindled, and she's trying to share her passion with the young players who are now in the position she remembers so vividly.
"Whenever you come in as a freshman, you think you have all the time in the world, and looking back now as a senior, it really flies by," Hayden reflected. She also shared her message to the youngsters, "This might be your best opportunity. You never know what tomorrow might bring. You're not promised four years with this sport, so go out every day and try to take advantage of it."
"With Alex, us being so close, I just go up there and say, 'hey, it looks like we need to go at this girl,' you know? I try to calm her down, I try not to think too much into it but get her head on straight," Hayden explained.
Every year, a player comes seemingly out of nowhere to help Louisiana win games. Hayden is just trying to prepare the entire roster for their moment to shine.
Not only is Hayden the leader of the squad, Head Coach Michael Lotief referred to her as the "wildcard" on the roster.
Lotief has her working at first base, second base and in the outfield during practice. He hasn't made up his mind where she is going to play in the field, so she's preparing herself for every different scenario, and she's enjoying the process.
"It's kind of fun. I get to do something different every single day," Hayden said with a smile. She added, "I don't know where I'm going to be playing on opening day, and opening day might be completely different from where I end."
Hayden might pop up all over the field, depending on the decisions Lotief makes during the season and within the course of a game, but she will be ready.
There's a lot of pressure on Hayden. She will lead the team, and the lineup, every game, but she's not trying to let the expectations creep into her head.
It's her final year on the the diamond wearing vermilion and white. Instead of crying every day about leaving or getting too sentimental about her final go-round with the team, she wants to take advantage of her final opportunity to reach greatness.
"This being my senior year, I just want to go out there, no added pressure on myself or any unneeded expectations, but I just want to go out there, enjoy every single day and soak it all up, so whenever I look back in a year, ten years from now, I know I really gave it my all and I have no regrets," Hayden said.
Watch the 1-on-1 interview above to hear how Hayden tried to improve her game in the offseason, find out who she thinks is ready to break out this year and how the rest of the team is preparing for the 2017 season.