VALPARAISO | Coaching was always something that seemed likely for Hayley Bridwell, but given her family connections, her choice of sport seemed unlikely.
The daughter of a longtime basketball coach and relative of Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, Bridwell bypassed the hardwood in favor of cleats and dirt when she began excelling in softball while growing up in Lemont.
Bridwell parlayed her talent for softball into a scholarship at Valparaiso University where she was a member of the first two NCAA tournaments appearances in program history. Graduating last May, Bridwell was ready to begin a coaching apprenticeship wherever she could latch on.
She never dreamed she’d receive a call to become the head coach at Morgan Township.
“I was sure that I’d start out as an assistant somewhere just getting my feet wet,” Bridwell said. “(Morgan Twp.) contacted (Valparaiso) Coach (Jordan) Stevens and he spoke very highly of me. The next thing I know, they were contacting me.”
Bridwell initially caught the coaching bug following her sophomore season at Valparaiso when she coached a travel ball team in Orland Park. Studying as an Elementary and Special Education major, Bridwell loved mixing her knowledge from the field as well as the classroom.
“I love the developmental phase of the game that these girls are going through right now,” Bridwell said of the Cherokees. “I learned a lot from my coaches and I’m excited to share that knowledge with these girls.”
The Cherokees are just as excited. Having gone through four coaches in the last four years, Morgan Twp. has been anything but stable while searching for its first sectional championship since 2008. After three wins in their first five games, the Cherokees believe they’ve found a coach that can help the program turn the corner.
“She’s always energetic with us,” junior catcher Morgan Lippens said. “Everything has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. She comes in here knowing how to get us where we need to be.”
Part of Bridwell’s knowledge comes from the fact she served as a pseudo player-coach for the Crusaders during her career. Often saddled by a shoulder injury, the slap-hitting specialist was never far from Stevens in the dugout, learning the intricacies of coaching.
“I was able to help with different kinds of decisions,” Bridwell said. “Not one regret for how things went. (The injury) was one of the hardest things I had to go through, but it led to great opportunities. I used the same philosophy that I use with my girls now. When something happens, you either fold or you make something out of it. That’s the way we’re going to play.”