Hood embraces yet another challenge, signing with Ole Miss

There’s one thing in particular, among many, that helps you understand Haley Hood and her success.

It’s not just that she’s won Gold medals at the Junior Olympic Regionals or that she’s been among the top high school athletes in Arkansas in the high jump (including a school record), the 300-meter hurdles, in the State Heptathlon and, with her teammates, in the 4×400 relay.

It’s not only being named all-conference and all-State in track plus being a member of Bryant cheerleading teams that have won two State championships, a National title and a World Championship.

It’s partly, too, that she’s a member of the National Honor Society and the Student Senate and through her work in several advanced placement classes has maintained a grade point average of 4.14 (better than an A).

It’s this:

“I actually quit cheer,” she related, referring to her senior year. “I thought that I’d done mostly everything I could do in cheer. I wanted to challenge myself in something else.”

You see, with all that’s she’s already accomplished she’s still challenging herself with new stuff. In this case, it was running cross country for the first time ever this fall as a senior.

“I was going to do it more just to stay in shape for track season and still practice my high jump and stuff but the coaches said, ‘Well, Haley, we’re not just going to have you lay back. You’re going to have you compete for us. You’re going to be top five.’

“So I actually ran with them and competed and was one of the top five runners — me and my sister (Bree), we just flip-flopped. I was second runner, third runner sometimes,” Hood added. “So I actually had to compete. It wasn’t bad. I actually got my time down. When I was running 5k’s just for fun, I was getting 25, 24 (minute) times. I actually set a new p.r. I think it was a 21:30. I was very surprised that I could run distance that well.”

“Haley was named one of the team captains,” noted Bryant coach Danny Westbrook.

With that in mind, is there any doubt she’ll be a success in college? Good news for the University of Mississippi (aka, Ole Miss) because that’s the school with which Hood, the daughter of Christie and Joey Hood, signed a NCAA Division I Letter of Intent on Thursday. She will continue her track career and her education, seeking an Engineering degree, at the Oxford, Miss., school, a member of the prestigious Southeastern Conference.

“I’ve talked to the Engineering Department and they’ve got a program where you can go over to Africa,” Hood related. “They’re building wells and stuff. So I’d get to help on those projects firsthand. I’m looking forward to doing things like that.”

“Haley joins a long line of outstanding track and field athletes that have gained college scholarships through our program,” said Westbrook. “Her dedication, hard work, and commitment have made her very successful in her high school career. Those attributes also have provided her this opportunity.”

“Haley is a very dedicated young woman,” added Bryant sprint coach Keith Dale. “She sets her mind to achieving great things and does everything she can to make it happen. Her cheery personality keeps everyone upbeat and working hard.”

As with the 43 or so other athletes that have signed to compete in college during Westbrook’s tenure as the cross country and track coach, he graciously puts together a press release listing the athlete’s accomplishments. Usually, it’s an efficient one-page document but every once in a while — though it’s just as efficiently produced, it takes more. With Hood, it was a full two pages.

It included highlights through her junior year in track:

  • 2013 as a freshman competed on the varsity squad as a member of the 4X100 relay team at the Meet of Champions
  • 2014 Gold medalist in high jump at Junior Olympic regional meet
  • 2014 top 20 finish State Heptathlon, 75 competitors
  • 2015 indoor season ranked No. 1 in the state for high jump
  • 2015 member of 4X400 Class 7A State Championship relay team
  • 2015 7A State runner-up, 300 meter hurdles
  • 2015 7A State third place, high jump
  • 2015 7A Central Conference Champion, high jump
  • 2015 member of 4X400 7A-Central Conference championship relay team
  • 2015 7A Central Conference runner-up, 300 meter hurdles
  • 2015 7A Central Conference third place, 100 meter hurdles
  • 2015 second-place Meet of Champions, 4X400 relay team
  • 2015 sixth place finish State Heptathlon, 71 competitors
  • 2015 named Arkansas All Conference and Arkansas All State
  • 2015 currently tied for school record, high jump
  • 2015 Gold medalist in high jump at the Junior Olympic regional meet
  • 2015 bronze medalist in 400 meter hurdles at the Junior Olympic regional meet
  • 2015 fifth place finish in the heptathlon at the Junior Olympic regional meet

“I’ve been lucky,” Hood said.

But she also acknowledged, “I’m very competitive. If there’s a way for me to work harder so I can beat my competitors, I’m going to do it.”

Obviously, not the complacent sort, Hood was pro-active in her search for a college, going on-line to the websites of various schools including Ole Miss.

“I filled out the questionnaire then I heard that the coaches had actually been fired,” she recounted. “Then I filled the questionnaire out another time.

“With track, especially out of state, you have to be a little bit more aggressive and fill out the stuff to get your name out there,” Hood explained. “So I did that with a couple of different questionnaires. I did it with Kentucky and Louisiana Tech and I actually got a full ride from Louisiana Tech but didn’t get to go on a visit. A-State was kind of the same way except they’d been watching me throughout my sophomore and junior year, just couldn’t talk to me. I scheduled a visit to go there in December but never made it to it because of Ole Miss.”

When she heard from the new Rebel coaches, Hood said, “I was sitting in class one day and I got an e-mail from them saying they were interested and I almost fell out of my seat. I was so excited.

“I talked with them and they sounded like a good fit for me so I scheduled the visit as soon as I could,” she continued. “We went in November and the coaches and the staff and everything, I fell in love with them. They were the best fit. I just fell in love with the whole campus too.”

In fact, Hood and her family actually visited on the weekend of the Arkansas-Ole Miss football game in Oxford, a thriller that Arkansas won in overtime.

“I actually committed the Friday before the game and all my friends were texting, saying, ‘Haley, how do you feel about that game?’” she related. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m still a Razorback but I could go either way.’ I’ll cheer for the Rebels track team but I’m still a Razorback at heart for football right now.”

Asked about the coaches’ plans for her, Hood said, “We went to dinner one night with the coaches and they asked me, ‘What would it take to get you to go here?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got two other sisters so I need a full ride because I don’t want my parents to worry about school.’”

Her academics coupled with her athletic prowess made that an easy call.

“I asked them, ‘If I came in, would I be red-shirted or what would happen?’” Hood continued. “They said, ‘We’d want you to compete right away and that I’d do Pentathlon, which is my favorite because it’s seven events that are all different, like I get to throw, which is scary but it’s fun. Then I get to high jump, which is one of my favorites, and do the 800, which is one of my favorite events too; and then the hurdles, which I’ve recently gotten into. So it’s the best of both worlds.

“It’s the same (as the high school Heptathlon) except we do discus instead of javelin” she explained. “Over summer, I competed in Junior Olympics and had to throw the javelin and, woo, that was a task. I told my coaches that’s my weakest point. They said, ‘We can fix you up there.’ So I’m excited for it.”

Hood started running track in the seventh grade.

“When I started I said, ‘You know, I’ve never heard of this sport but I’ll try it,’” she said. “In eighth grade, I said, ‘I’ll keep doing it.’ I was beating some of the ninth graders so I was, ‘Okay, I’m kind of good at this.’

“I actually got to compete with varsity at the end of my ninth grade year,” she continued. “It was the first time that they could move freshmen up to the varsity and I was one of the first ones to letter for varsity as a freshman.

“In the 10th grade, I started training with J.J. Meadors and Cedric Vaughn and started doing some outside stuff. It was like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this.’ Tenth grade, 11th grade, I’ve hit it hard and it’s paid off.”

Indeed it has, in a big way.

With her college decision made, Hood is looking forward to her senior indoor and outdoor track season where she has her sites set on setting several school records and contributing to a State team title in Westbrook’s last season as head track coach.

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