Kaskaskia College and Hillsboro High School aren’t intrinsically linked athletically in the minds of many, but if the Blue Angels keep getting athletes the caliber of their last three signees from Topper Country, that may very well soon change.
After inking Nikya Harston to play basketball in February, Kaskaskia added another Class of 2021 standout recently when Haley Major committed to play softball at the Centralia-based junior college.
“Having Shelby going there definitely opened my eyes,” Major said on her decision to play for Kaskaskia. “Coach John (Barnes) was at a lot of our games watching Shelby and I liked his vibe. I’m really excited to go play for him.”
“Shelby” is Shelby Houchlei, Major’s former teammate and a 2020 Hillsboro graduate. Houchlei signed with the Angels last year and has been dominant in her freshman season, with 14 wins, 110 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.37 for Kaskaskia, who are 20-17 through March 17.
“This season they’re doing really good and Shelby is pitching well. I’m really excited,” Major said. “(Barnes) actually mentioned to me about playing infield and second base. I don’t have a lot of experience at second, but that’s what I’ll be working on this summer. Whatever I can do to get a spot. If the coach tells me to play somewhere, that’s where I’ll go... except pitcher. Not a fan.”
Fortunately, Houchlei has that pretty well covered, but Major’s ability to adapt and play multiple positions was one of the things that drew her to Coach Barnes.
“She’s a little bit of everything. She’s got speed, power and defensive versatility,” Barnes said. “Shelby has had good success coming from Hillsboro and Haley is no exception. We know what kind of player she is.”
That kind of player is one who has been a key part of a Hillsboro program that ran up 48 wins in 56 games, going 17-1 in the South Central Conference during that span.
Major made her presence known from the start of her varsity career, going 2-for-3 in her debut with a triple, a home run and four runs batted in to help the Lady Hiltoppers to a 15-0 victory over Vandalia in five innings. That was just the start of a fantastic first season in which Major batted .429 with three home runs, 19 RBIs and 17 runs scored.
Her sophomore season would be even better as the Toppers advanced to the sectional championship before falling to Southwestern.
Even on a team littered with future college players like Houchlei, Katie Schaake (Lincoln Land) and Kai Hanner (Saint Louis University), Major stood out. Not only did she bat .472, but she also led the team in homers (nine), runs scored (56) and stolen bases (31 in 32 attempts).
Those numbers earned her a first team all-conference nod and set her up for a spectacular junior season, before COVID-19 got in the way.
Even with the extenuating circumstances, nothing has been able to slow Major down, athletically or academically. In addition to her softball accolades, Major has also been a key part of the Hillsboro volleyball and basketball teams and took on a new challenge, tennis, when the opportunity arose to add a fourth sport this fall.
On the playing fields, Major is used to being the subject of newspaper cameras, but in the classroom she has found a home behind the lens.
“I wasn’t really into it until I took a class in photography and it really opened my eyes,” said Major, who will study fine arts and photography at Kaskaskia. “I’m taking an AP art class right now and it’s really fun.”
One of Major’s digital photography pieces, The Mask Journey, was accepted into the SIUE High School Juried Exhibition this year and was inspired by the emotions and experiences young people are having with masks and the pandemic. Bringing her own journey full circle, Major’s subject for the project? Her former and future teammate, Shelby Houchlei.
Hillsboro High School’s announcement of Major’s accomplishment was accompanied by the hash tag, #hardworkpaysoff. While that’s true both academically and athletically for Major, she has her sites set even higher.
“I hope to play softball two more years,” said Major, who hopes to play for a larger university after her time at Kaskaskia is done. “Softball has always been something I’ve wanted to play and I think it will help with tuition if I can get a scholarship.”
It’s a lofty goal, but with all she has accomplished so far, there’s no indication that it’s not within her grasp.