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SFU softball coach has passport ready

LORETTO — Saint Francis assistant softball coach Hailey Breakwell has been a nomad in her softball career.

Growing up in the fertile Napa Valley of California, a garden of grapes and softball players, Breakwell played shortstop at Idaho State, where she won Big Sky player of the year.

After Idaho State, she became a graduate assistant at Wichita State, and in 2018, newly appointed SFU head coach Jessica O’Donnell hired Breakwell as her assistant coach.

At this junction, Breakwell’s career traction kept sending her east, but Olympic qualifying sent her to the Far East, where she suited up for Team New Zealand in Olympic qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

A reader might inquire on how an American citizen is able to play for an international nation. The answer resides in dual citizenship and family heritage. In addition to her American citizenship, courtesy of her father’s lineage, Breakwell possesses New Zealand citizenship.

Breakwell’s father was born in New Zealand and is 100 percent Kiwi. Like many previous immigrants, he moved to America in his younger days and stayed ever since.

Unfortunately, both Breakwell and New Zealand failed to qualify for the 2020 Olympics as the White Sox went 1-2 to place fifth in the 2019 Asia/Oceania Qualifier hosted in Shanghai, China.

An 8-3 defeat to China and a 1-0 extra-inning heartbreaker to the Philippines induced elimination. Breakwell served her country well; hitting second best for average (.286) and first in OBP (.500). She handled every chance for a .1000 fielding percentage.

Representing New Zealand has been an immense blessing and honor for Breakwell.

She acknowledges how her Kiwi heritage stirs her blood.

“It is an absolute honor to wear the fern and have New Zealand inscribed across my chest,” she said. “It is an emotional and powerful feeling to represent an entire country. I may have been born in America, but New Zealand is also my country in so many ways.”

Despite the inherent differences in birthplace and situations between squad members, Breakwell said the team bonded.

“My teammates and I are truly a family and there is no other group that I would rather go to war with on the field than them,” she said.

Her favorite memory of the qualifying round remains untarnished by defeat.

“We were up 3-0 against China,” she said. “Unfortunately, we lost, but the energy in the stadium with the home Chinese crowd was amazing, and we matched the energy. We had one of the best teams in the world on their heels.”

With the elimination and the removal of softball as an Olympic sport starting in 2024, the Asia/Oceanic qualifier was likely the last swing of Breakwell’s international career, and consequently, the last time the fern will be emblazoned across her uniform.

She returns to Saint Francis to continue her collegiate coaching career with the goal of assisting in the Red Flash’s quest for a fourth straight NEC title and NCAA regional appearance.

But regarding her future playing prospects, she said, “I will never say never. As long as I’m able, there’s a chance I will play.”

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