UNION TWP. | Hanna Houghtaling walked around the Wheeler softball field with a pleasant smile on her face earlier this week.
Given everything that Houghtaling has been through over the last three years and how much she’s had to battle to get back to the field, that smile was no small feat.
“It’s good to see the happy Hanna back with us,” Wheeler coach Marc Bruner said. “Things really haven’t gone her way.”
The problems started for the Wheeler junior when she was in eighth grade and suffered a dislocated left shoulder and torn labrum. Houghtaling underwent surgery which resulted in four pins being inserted into her left shoulder. A second surgery was needed when a screw fell out and her bicep began hooking.
Despite the two surgeries, Houghtaling made the Wheeler varsity team as a freshman and contributed to the club. The pain persisted into her sophomore year when it was discovered that her arm was infected with an abscess. Houghtaling was back in the hospital with a disintegrated bicep and her dreams of playing softball at the highest levels were put on hold.
“It’s always been my dream to play softball in college and suddenly I thought I was done for,” Houghtaling said. “It was difficult to get back.”
While Houghtaling battled through pain rehab following another surgery, the team had no choice but to push forward. The Bearcats made the semistate finals last season and with each postseason victory, it was a reminder to Houghtaling of what might have been and what truly was.
“This taught me to play harder and not to take anything for granted,” Houghtaling said.
Bruner eased Houghtaling back into the mix this season, feeling cautiously optimistic that the junior would be able to regain the form and confidence that led her to making the varsity team as a freshman. She has far exceeded expectations. Houghtaling is hitting .353 this season while batting leadoff and leads the team with 15 runs scored. The outfielder has an on-base percentage of .450 and is third on the team in hits while leading the Bearcats to a 9-1 record.
“I’m glad to see her have some success, she’s definitely earned it,” Bruner said. “She’s a tough little kid, one that would play anywhere.”
Houghtaling still isn’t all the way back to where she wants to be. While she is happy to be on the field every day, she’d rather be catching than playing in the outfield. Coming from a situation where it looked like she would never play again, she’ll take the position switch, just so long as she still has the smile.