Reagan Hathaway knew as soon as it happened that it wasn’t good.
It was a beautiful day in Austin when Hathaway was playing center field for the Texas softball team in a high-stakes home game against Oklahoma on April 7, 2017. A pop fly was looped in between her, second baseman Kaitlyn Slack and right fielder Kaitlyn Washington. As Slack called for the ball, Hathaway tried to stop her momentum. That was the moment she felt a searing pain in her right knee.
Hathaway tore her ACL and medial and lateral meniscus, an injury that would sideline her for the next season and a half. Yet Hathaway is not letting this accident define her career as a Longhorn. Instead, she has come back this season with a vengeance, sparking the team as its primary leadoff hitter to one of the best seasons in recent history.
It’s been a long road to this breakout season for Hathaway. Months after the initial injury, she had surgery to repair the ligaments. Her rehabilitation was progressing fine until it was nearing the time for her return.
“I started having a ton of pain. It got to the point where I couldn’t walk, couldn’t run,” Hathaway said. “Everything was really sharp pain. We did every test possible, every form of treatment possible before they finally gave me an MRI.”
The results were devastating. The screw that had been inserted into her knee was being rejected by her body. In addition, she had a lesion in her knee that was being pinched when extended, and her meniscus tear had not fully healed. She underwent a second surgery in February 2018, which kept her sidelined for all but the first game of the season.
“It was tough,” Hathaway said. “I kind of got used to it, to the supportive teammate role, because I knew I was kind of in it for the long haul. But I love softball, so of course I wanted to be out there.”
How did she come back from two major surgeries to be a leader for Texas?
To understand where this ferocious drive and passion for the game came from, you must return to Olathe, Kansas, where her high school career was the stuff of legends.
A two-time All-American catcher at Olathe Northwest High School, Hathaway tore up the record books in her four years there. By her senior year, when she hit a .640 batting average, she was so unstoppable teams would walk her in nearly every situation, including several times with the bases loaded.
“It was to the point where her senior year, it was like Barry Bonds,” Hathaway’s high school coach Mark Mahoney said in a phone call. “They just wouldn’t pitch to her … She could change the game that quickly.”
Her prominent status in Olathe sports history did not come immediately. As a freshman, she hit near the bottom of the order on a strong Olathe Northwest squad. It was then that her mindset changed and her fierce work ethic was forged.
“After her freshman year, a switch kind of flipped,” Mahoney said. “She started doing weights and those kinds of things. Her work ethic is what got her where she’s at. She started hitting balls that sometimes never landed.”
When her injury happened, it was not going to be career-altering for Hathaway. She simply wouldn’t let it happen. She worked hard on a daily basis after both surgeries to get back to her previous form. Now, she says she feels even better than she did before the injury.
“Every day, she was out there working out,” Washington said. “She’d rehab on the side for two years straight while we were practicing. She’s definitely put in the work and deserves that leadoff spot.”
It had been almost two years since Hathaway had suited up and run after fly balls in the outfield. Yet from the start, there was no hesitation from the center fielder. She’s going after every ball in the outfield with reckless abandon, and from the leadoff spot this season, she’s hitting .345 and leads the Big 12 with 14 doubles.
“She plays like she’s missed it — just the passion and the drive,” Texas head coach Mike White said. “One of the first two or three practices, she almost knocked the wall over trying to get after a ball. Not a kid that’s worrying about banging her knee up.”
And yes, Hathaway yearned to come back to the game she loved. She’s been ready for this moment since that day in Austin nearly two years ago. Now, it’s finally here.