Hayden Craig watches her hit during Northwest Athletic Conference play for the Olympic College Rangers. Craig is batting .333 this season with 10 hits in 30 at bats and driving in four runs.                                Kurt DeVoe/Olympic College Athletics

Hayden Craig watches her hit during Northwest Athletic Conference play for the Olympic College Rangers. Craig is batting .333 this season with 10 hits in 30 at bats and driving in four runs. Kurt DeVoe/Olympic College Athletics

From the diamond to the court, Craig hitting her stride

Being a two-sport student-athlete hasn’t been easy for Hayden Craig

Being a two-sport student-athlete hasn’t been easy for Hayden Craig.

“Honestly, it’s pretty challenging. It’s hard,” said Craig, who played basketball and is currently playing softball. “I’m not going to lie.”

Craig makes it work with time management.

“It’s pretty busy, but I like it because I like the routine of practice, class, study hall, practice, workout,” she said.

Early in Craig’s career with the Olympic College (Bremerton, Wash.) Rangers basketball team she sustained a concussion during a February 2015 game against Bellevue. After a play was blown dead when she battled for the ball to the floor, her opponent tried stepping over her to help pick up a teammate and kicked Craig between her eyebrows. Craig said it was intentional and the player was suspended.

“It’s a pretty aggressive league, but that was a little uncommon,” said Craig, who averaged 3.38 points and 2.67 rebounds per game as a centre. “Usually people don’t try to intentionally hurt each other.”

It took six months for Craig to recover. At first, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong and for a period there was no signs of improvement. Tests were done on her head and small lumps were found, but there was uncertainty behind them, but they weren’t cancer.

“I wasn’t allowed to do anything, which for me was super painful,” said Craig. “I had to monitor my heart rate. My heart rate wasn’t allowed to be over 80. It was really frustrating.”

By the end of July of 2015, she was cleared to resume physical activity and worked on getting back. In her sophomore season, 2015-16, Craig averaged 12.58 points per game and nearly six rebounds.

In basketball, playing post, Craig worked the inside of the key and it was important for her to feed off of her teammates. She focused on creating opportunities for them, which did the same for her. Being six-feet tall, Craig takes advantage of her size.

“There are tall girls in the league,” said Craig. “Playing in the key is my bread and butter.”

Craig has put in time to expand her game and adjust to defences by hitting shots from 10 to 15 feet from the basket.

“I think that helped improve my game too,” she said.

On the ball diamond, Craig is a catcher and is working on being a leader. As she said, playing in her position, she must step up and take charge.

“They are the one calling the plays, the pictches,” she said. “My coaches (Chuck Stark, Lexi Orteza and Jim Spencer) have helped me get some confidence.”

Craig has improved from growing confindence, including at the plate. In her first season in 2016, Craig played 38 games hitting .340, going 32-for-94 with two home runs and 28 runs batted in. She also scored 22 times. This season, she is batting .333 (19-for-57) with one homer and 10 RBI’s in conference and non-conference play.

Stark said Craig is hitting better than her average shows.

“I think she is hitting the ball pretty hard right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the year, she is hitting even higher,” said Stark. “Her conference stats, they were really good. That’s where it mattered the most, hitting .400 or above.”

Balacing school work while playing two sports was a challenge.

“It’s hard. I’m not going to lie,” said Craig, who did it for two years.

What has impressed Stark more about Craig is the work she has put into her education.

“I didn’t think she was the greatest student. She has really applied herself,” said Stark, who has had many conversations with Craig, who sits behind him on the bus. “The last two years, she asks out of practice occasionally so she can go work with a tutor to get extra help. She buckled down and studied. She is a well-rounded person. Hayden is a joy to be around. I’ll miss her when she’s gone.”

Fortunately for her, the two sports only overlap for about a month. Basketball season ended last month, while softball began in February.

“It’s something I want to do,” said Craig, who has developed strong friendships on both teams. “I love my coaches. They have helped me improve so much.”

Craig’s basketball career with the Rangers is over after two seasons as league rules only allow athletes to play that many seasons. Craig is in her final season of softball as well. Once the school year is complete, Craig will transfer to Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., which she visited recently. At her new school, Craig will only play basketball, which will allow her to focus more on school. She sought out the transfer because of her studies. She has interest in education, including child development and psychology and has a desire to work with special needs kids.

Stark added Craig is an excellent teammate and a really good athlete. she earned second-team NWAC honours in their region. Stark knows her plans to change schools, but said she has a very high upside in softball.

“I know she likes basketball better. I’m really happy for her that worked out,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind if she wanted to dedicate herself to softball that she could be a pretty elite softball player. She has got the size and she is fairly fast for her size. She has a really good arm.”

Last season she threw out several runners trying to steal bases.

“Teams just stopped running against us last year,” said Stark. “She would throw somebody out and they wouldn’t try it again. She has a really quick release. Is really accurate. Probably not quite as good this year throwing runners out. I think she was more consistent last year.”

Craig has enjoyed success playing both sports for the Rangers as she was a starter for the basketball team last year and one of its top scorers. They fell short of the Northwest Athletic Conference, but she had consistent numbers in helping contribute to the team. It’s a conference loaded with talent.

“I think that I can compete with them. That’s a good feeling,” said Craig, who is concussion free and playing to her full ability.