TLAXCALA, MEXICO — It will have been the straightforward and comprehensible factor, for Hailey Harward to be heartbroken.
This previous weekend was no small alternative, to defend for Alix Klineman on the Seaside Volleyball World Championships, a spot they earned by way of wild card. What had been an excellent starting to their run, a 25-23, 21-14 upset over Germans Cinja Tillmann and Svenja Muller, got here unraveled within the ensuing two days, with losses to Brazil’s Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes, and China’s Jie Dong and Fan Wong. Twice, that they had photographs to maneuver on from pool. Twice, they failed to take action.
Most would take a day or two or 5 or nevertheless lengthy to mope, to wrestle with the existential meanings of such a weekend.
But that is Hailey Harward. She doesn’t do moping. Not for lengthy, anyway.
“All good issues,” she mentioned on Tuesday morning, lower than 12 hours after the loss to China. “Such a cool expertise.”
Correct perspective has by no means been one thing that eludes Harward. Grounded in her religion, a loss, to her, is simply that: A loss. Stings, sure. A bummer, to make certain. Like anybody taking part in seashore volleyball for a residing, she’d want to win, as her livelihood relies on her skill to just do that. However she’s additionally aware of the indisputable fact that to win each match is an unrealistic expectation. She takes losses, absorbs them, and seeks the larger image.
Take her ninth in Hermosa Seaside earlier this yr. It was a lightweight occasion, with most of the high groups competing within the Gstaad Elite16. Harward and Kelley Kolinske have been the No. 1 seed within the match, their finest shot at successful their first Professional or Gold Collection as a staff, and Harward’s largest alternative so as to add a second AVP title to her resume. As a substitute, they’d bow out in simply three matches, with losses to the 9 and 14 seeds.
Reasonably than taking the highway traveled by most each participant after a disappointing end, Harward didn’t lament the disappointing end on social media. As a substitute, she wrote about what a cool alternative the match was proving for her pals who have been making surprising deep runs in an AVP.
“As a lot as I’d like to be taking part in on championship Sunday at this time, God is writing a reasonably cool story for the groups nonetheless in it,” she wrote.
This isn’t a present, both. Not a well-refined PR marketing campaign for Harward to seem kinder or extra magnanimous than she actually is. That is simply Hailey being Hailey — an distinctive athlete who leaves no stone unturned on the court docket or within the weight room and who additionally has one of many warmest, most real hearts in skilled sport.
“Hailey is the epitome of the last word competitor however an individual who is ready to separate their sport from their every day life,” mentioned Julia Scoles, who counts herself as one in every of Harward’s closest pals. “On the court docket, she’s fierce, ferocious, giving it her all, after which off the court docket she’s caring, she’s loving, she’s supportive.”
If solely she may very well be so sort to herself.
Like many high-level athletes, Harward will decide aside her personal recreation, scrutinizing her flaws till there’s nothing left to look at. When she takes a fast scan of her season, she doesn’t see a participant whose common end on the AVP (5.83) would have been a dream end only a yr prior. She doesn’t see her second-place run on the Manhattan Seaside Open, or a defender so gifted she was picked up by an Olympic gold medalist in her return from being pregnant. She sees flaws, areas of enchancment. It’s each what makes her nice and what drives her mad.
“I couldn’t dig a ball however perhaps I’m near it, and I’m engaged on, in my mind, saying ‘Oh you didn’t dig it, that’s so dangerous’ whereas a coach, Tyler Hildebrand, who’s being working with me just a little bit, he goes ‘That’s so good! You’re so there!’ In the meantime in my mind I’m like ‘however I didn’t dig it! That’s so dangerous!’” Harward mentioned. “And I’ll hit a swing out and he’ll go ‘That’s an excellent swing!’ and in my head I’m like ‘However I hit it out!’ Nevertheless it’s the method that for me has been a 180 of speaking to myself of, you didn’t get that one however you’re shut, and shifting the idea to I’m going to get the subsequent one.”
It’s a perception that has been examined in a number of methods. From an analytical perspective, she had a quantifiably higher yr in 2023 than she had in 2022. Her prize cash jumped by almost $6,000 on the AVP regardless of taking part in two much less occasions. She greater than tripled her prize cash on the Seaside Professional Tour and completed within the top-10 4 instances, three greater than she did in 2022.
From a psychological perspective, it nonetheless wasn’t ok.
“There have been excessive expectations,” she mentioned of this season. “It was coming from an excellent place of I imagine in our staff [with Kelley Kolinske and coach Evie Matthews] and I believe that’s an excellent basis however to not get too caught up in the place you understand you have to be vs. the method. Simply be the place you might be proper now. There’s no sense of being prior to now or the longer term.
“Once I stand again, and I don’t get nitpicky about myself, I actually imagine having Evie as a coach and being with Kelley, I used to be in a position to enhance so much this yr. But when I zoom in and solely take a look at the outcomes, effectively, I received an AVP final yr and I didn’t win one this yr with a extremely good companion. I believe general as a participant I’ve gotten higher and taking part in the most effective.
“I’ve heard it mentioned you have to be a child on the playground. You shouldn’t be placing this a lot stress on your self. You’re younger, you’re athletic, you might have this profession forward of you, this ought to be a lot enjoyable so that you can play the most effective on the earth. Don’t put this weight on your self.”
Simpler mentioned than executed, significantly whenever you transition from being a participant who competed with seven companions in 2022 to getting picked up by a veteran and profitable participant in Kolinske to defending for Klineman. It’s straightforward to let that get to your head.
“Just lately I’ve been placing just a little stress on myself,” Harward mentioned. “I simply wish to get again to what a possibility that is! That’s the place I wish to be. I play my finest once I’m crammed with gratitude and for the power to compete. It’s so cool.”
It’s particularly cool when contemplating the truth that, just a little greater than a month in the past, Harward couldn’t imagine that Klineman had even saved her telephone quantity, not to mention needed to play in Paris and Mexico and probably extra occasions along with her. After Harward graduated from USC, a pair of NCAA Championships in hand, she had messaged Klineman, saying that if she ever wanted somebody to shag balls, perhaps fill in for April Ross, she’d be prepared. Klineman was well mannered sufficient about it, however Harward didn’t suppose something may come of it.
Two years later, Harward acquired a textual content message:
“Hey,” Klineman mentioned, “can we speak on the telephone?”
“My coronary heart instantly jumps,” Harward recalled, laughing. “What does she wish to speak to me about? What’s happening?”
Harward’s schedule magically cleared, and instantly she was on the telephone with Klineman, who had executed the mathematics, figuring out that “based mostly on who signed up, I see that you simply and Kelley wouldn’t make it into World Champs,” Klineman mentioned. “I simply have this itch to get again within the sand, would you wish to enroll with me for the wild card? I don’t know if we’ll get it, I don’t know what’s going to occur, I simply wish to see if we will get it, what we’d do.
“I keep in mind you performed massive with loads of power, and I’ve watched you play earlier than and I simply suppose we may do rather well if we will play collectively.”
Harward made her finest try at maintaining it collectively.
“I used to be like ‘That is insane! What?’ Thanks a lot, I’m honored, I would like to speak to my staff about it only for transparency,’” Harward mentioned. “So we join the wild card and I’m praying about it the night time earlier than and the subsequent morning we get the wild card.”
With Klineman’s factors frozen from her being pregnant, they have been in a position to get into the Paris Elite16 qualifier and parlay that right into a run on the World Championships. Harward savored each minute of it.
“It’s been unbelievable simply being along with her at apply and we’ve had April with us as effectively so to have April and Alix, speaking backwards and forwards, and I’m simply sitting there like ‘That is nuts!’ I wish to have extra of that awe issue but in addition conscious of Alix has been superior of we’re on the identical stage,” Harward mentioned. “It doesn’t matter what I’ve executed, we’re a staff, we’re utterly friends, you give me suggestions, I provide you with suggestions, I need you to really feel empowered, we’re a staff.
“If we’ve some good finishes, perhaps we make investments and go for it, and if that’s not the case, new child, perhaps we simply see, really feel it out. I don’t wish to let that put stress on it both. Simply strive your finest, play the way you wish to play as a result of that’s what you management. Wherever the chips fall is the place they fall.”
The finishes — a first-round qualifier exit in Paris and a pool play exit in Mexico — weren’t what both would have had in thoughts. Then once more, what may the expectations have realistically been? They’d solely been training for a couple of weeks, taking part in towards groups that had performed collectively your complete yr, if no more. Klineman remains to be solely 4 months out from having her son. The truth that they swept the defending World Championship bronze medalists is nothing shy of extraordinary.
“I’m very motivated proper now however I even have this angle of if Worlds is my final match of the yr, alright, I can take a break, relaxation my physique just a little bit, however I’m nonetheless going to pursue my aim relentlessly till that occur,” Harward mentioned. “I don’t know what the remainder of this yr goes to appear like, however no matter it’s, I’m going to go for it 100%.”