Herald-Whig

Dooley focusing on future, not past, after knee injury

Illini West senior Daytona Dooley runs back to the dugout after scoring a run in a game against Central earlier this month. Dooley missed her junior season because on an ACL tear in her left knee. | H-W Photo/Mat Mikesell
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 14, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Apr. 15, 2019 1:10 am

CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Daytona Dooley easily could wonder what might have been.

During her sophomore season with the Illini West softball team, the outfielder hit .481 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs to go along with on-base and slugging percentages that were among the area's best. The Chargers also reached the Class 2A sectional championship game.

The core of that returned the following spring.

All except Dooley.

She didn't play a single inning last spring, having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. The Chargers won another regional, but fell in the sectional semifinals to Elmwood-Brimfield.

"It was heartbreaking," Dooley said. "I remember sitting in the car and just thinking, ‘There goes softball season.' I wanted to be a four-time starter and play with that team because I was so close with them. I would have loved to been there, but they played great without me."

Dooley won't let herself guess what might have happened if she was able to play.

Her focus is on the now.

"I'm so happy to be back," said Dooley, who was cleared last fall for full activities. "It was a long recovery back."

The Chargers are thrilled to have her back, too.

Dooley has picked up where she's left off two years ago. Hitting in the lead-off spot, she's third on the team in batting average (.483), first in triples (4), first in home runs (5) and first in slugging percentage (.983). She also has 32 runs scored and 18 RBIs in 17 games.

"She's obviously that complete five-tool player," first-year coach Ryan Bliss said. "You can't tell she missed a season. She's just all-out 100 percent. It's like she hasn't missed a thing."

Dooley missed being on the field.

She became a de facto assistant coach while she was forced to the sidelines. She made sure to keep her teammates' energy up and provide advice when needed.

She also made sure to sit by then-coach Rod Pence to learn the coaching side of softball, and she soaked up as much knowledge as she could.

"I've grown so much around the game," Dooley said. "It's nice to have that different perspective. It taught me to be a better teammate. Sometimes you have to play a different role, and obviously my role that year was not to be on the field."

But now that she's back, her role is being Illini West's vocal leader. She's always had an outgoing personality -- she calls herself loud -- but being on the field as a senior has made her appreciate playing again, too.

She's taken on new challenges, too, by not just sticking to center field, but also playing shortstop when needed.

"Being a center fielder and a shortstop, you have to be loud," Dooley said. "Period."

It's her way of leaving a mark on this year's team, an opportunity she missed a year ago.