East Webster pitcher Swayze Hollenhead pitched her way to The Starkville Daily News Fastpitch Player of the Year honors in 2011. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Six years ago, President George W. Bush was barely a year into his second term, there was no such thing as Twitter and 7th grader Swayze Hollenhead was putting on an East Webster Wolverines softball jersey for the first time.
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As much as things have changed over the course of the last half-decade, there's been one constant in Cumberland.
When the Wolverines took the field, Hollenhead was going to be there.
Eight days ago, when East Webster fell in the Class 2A state championship series to Enterprise-Clarke, the Swayze Hollenhead era ended.
Yet, as the Starkville Daily News All-Area Fastpitch Player of the Year walked off the field at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland, she wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to her high school career.
"We were getting off the field and I didn't want to take my jersey off," said Hollenhead. "I didn't even take my jersey off when I got home. I just left it on for maybe hours."
No one could blame Hollenhead for not wanting to let go. In her years as a Wolverine, Hollenhead played a part on four state championship teams in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Though East Webster missed out on the playoffs altogether in Hollenhead's junior season, her recently completed senior campaign turned out to be quite the memorable journey.
"When we first started the season out, we were determined to get in the playoffs," said Hollenhead. "We were really aggravated because (in 2010), we felt we could have made the playoffs. So we practiced hard and was able to get past Hamilton and make the playoffs this year."
Hollenhead and East Webster's success was just getting started. Fueled and motivated by the destructive tornado that destroyed their campus on April 27, the Wolverines swept through the postseason to claim the Class 2A North championship, defeating Eupora, Mantachie and Hatley along the way.
As a result, Hollenhead got the chance to play for yet another state crown.
While this time, things didn't turn out as well as they had in Hollenhead's previous four trips, it did allow Hollenhead the chance to give her younger teammates a taste of success, just as the previous generation of Wolverines had done for her.
"I actually think it was a good way to go out, even though we didn't win state," said Hollenhead. "It showed people how we can do anything. I'm glad I got to bring the youngest ones on the team (to Ridgeland) to experience it. When they go to state again, and I guarantee you they will, they'll have that experience. That kind of thing really helped me coming up because I was blessed to get experience starting my 7th grade year playing with really great girls."
In East Webster's magical 2011 campaign, which saw them finish with a 20-8 overall record, there was no doubt that Hollenhead was her squad's heart and soul.
At the plate, she batted .460 with two home runs and 33 RBIs. On the mound, she posted a 2.20 ERA while striking out 152 batters in 189 total innings.
"Swayze is every coach's dream player," said the Starkville Daily News All-Area Fastpitch Coach of the Year, East Webster's Meleah Brown. "She'll do anything you ask of her. Whatever you tell her to do, she's just going to do it and do it to the best of her ability. That's what every coach looks for is someone who is going to give their all everyday."
Hollenhead's unselfishness was perhaps never as evident as it has been the past two seasons. While admittedly more comfortable as in infielder after playing a variety of infield spots during her seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th grade years, Hollenhead was forced into pitching duties last year.
This season, she took off in that role.
"Pitching wasn't really (Hollenhead's) thing, but she did it," said Brown. "That just shows what kind of player she is."
Despite her mound success, Hollenhead says she doesn't expect to continue pitching next season when she trades in the maroon and white of East Webster for the maroon and white of Mississippi State University.
Upon suiting up for the Bulldogs, a team Hollenhead signed with late last year, Hollenhead says she expects to return to her infield roots.
However, MSU's decision to dismiss coach Jay Miller has added a bit of uncertainty to Hollenhead's expectations.
"It's weird because, for all these years, Mississippi State has been Jay Miller's team," said Hollenhead. "But I'm not really worried about it. Whoever comes in will be new...and I'll be new too so maybe it'll work out for the best. I know they had originally wanted me at second or third, but now I don't know. We'll just figure it all out when I get over there. As long as I get to play, it doesn't matter to me."
While Hollenhead will soon be able to open this exciting new chapter of her life, East Webster will now have to move on as well.
Brown says replacing Hollenhead's experience and talent will be a daunting task.
"Losing Swayze is like losing half of a team," said Brown. "Even when she's on the mound, she fields any ball that is anywhere near her. Those kinds of things show how she plays like she's more than one player. Losing her is a lot more than just losing one person.
"That leaves a big hole for somebody else to have to step up and fill. Somebody's going to have to do it, and they're going to have some big shoes to fill."