Against the odds

Published 7:54 pm Saturday, April 23, 2011

Washington volleyball player Haley Hiatt (11) hits the ball during a game against Southside in the fall of 2010. Hiatt, who won her bout with Hodgkin’s disease during her sophomore year, will be playing volleyball for Pitt CC next season. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

Haley Hiatt is starting to get really good at overcoming the odds. After being told that she would never play volleyball for Pitt Community College by its coach Tom Marsh, the Pam Pack standout finally won over the Bulldogs’ skipper with her usually recipe for success: hard work and brute determination.

In September of 2008 Hiatt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease during her sophomore year at Washington High School. Despite going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Hiatt remarkably was able to return to the volleyball court for the final two games of the season. She would go on to play basketball and participate in track and field.

While Hiatt, currently a senior, excelled at all sports, volleyball was her true love. From her junior season on her main goal was to be able to play past high school. With that in mind, Hiatt signed up to play for Marsh’s travel team. It was there that she received word that she would never be a Bulldog.

“From the beginning he said ‘Haley, you have no chance at playing for me,’” Hiatt said. “I was like ‘Oh dag.’ Then I was like, well I’m just going to have to work my butt off and show him that I can play. “

Hiatt handled the bad news the same way she handled hearing that she had cancer. Instead of dwelling on what she can’t change, her course of action was to find the way to remedy things and attack it with the same all-out intensity she displays on game day.

“He kept working with me in practices and I kept asking “So am I getting better?’ and he said ‘yes’.  I was like ‘well, can I play for you yet?,’” Hiatt said. “He had other girls that he was waiting for (commitments) from. I was like well here I am working my butt off and they’re just chilling.”

Practice after practice it became increasingly hard for Hiatt’s effort and improvement to be ignored. Finally, Haley got the word that her volleyball career would not end on graduation day.

“It was one Thursday and (Marsh) usually says ‘hey Haley come here’ after practice and tells me to work on this or work on that. And he told me ‘I want you to play for me, go home and think about it,’” Hiatt said. “I was like ‘whoa, there is nothing to think about. I want to play for you,’ Then we shook on it.”

Having missed most of her sophomore year, the 5-10 Hiatt has only really played varsity volleyball for two seasons. Marsh said that while Hiatt may lack in some areas, she has plenty of upside.

“Haley was not used to the speed or intensity level of the game. She had never really played in a college-style lineup and didn’t understand where to be nor what you were responsible for doing,” Marsh said via e-mail. “Haley’s athleticism, size and interest in getting better are all big pluses for her. She made a great deal of progress in her level of play and has a great chance to get on the court for Pitt Community College. She can be a very formidable blocker and a strong attacker. She has to continue to improve her understanding of the game and become more consistent in her attacking skills and she will be in great shape. I believe as long as she keeps the same great attitude things will work out very well for her at Pitt.”

Hiatt did not want to let her chances of making the team rest on a handshake. A verbal agreement alone was not convincing enough, so Hiatt went to the team’s tryouts just to cement the fact that she belonged in a Bulldogs’ jersey.

“I wanted to do it because I wanted to prove to him (that I should be on the team)’,” Hiatt said. “Plus, it was a chance to play more volleyball. Tell me where there’s a volleyball game and I’m there.”

Washington volleyball coach Tara Hunter said Hiatt’s work ethic is her biggest asset.

“Haley is a very energetic and determined player,” Hunter said. “She is willing to learn. If you correct her on something or give her advice on how to do something better she is will do it. She always wants to get better, she loves the game.”

While Hiatt was thrilled when she got word she would be playing for Pitt, the only ones who might have been more happy were her parents, Kimberly and Norman Hiatt.

“I’m ecstatic,” Kimberly said. “She can do anything she sets her mind to. She has proven it over and over again.”

Hiatt’s ambitions will not rest once she puts on a Bulldog’s jersey, it’s just not her style. There will always be new goals to achieve and obstacles to overcome. The girl who wasn’t good enough to play for a junior college has her sights set on playing for East Carolina. The same girl who missed her sophomore year due to cancer only to become an all-conference player as a senior knows it’s a longshot, but overcoming the odds is something Hiatt has become really good at.