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CALDWELL — Coming out of high school, Haley Loffer had opportunities to play college softball at several East Coast schools, including a full-ride NCAA Division I offer from UMass-Lowell.

But the Coeur d’Alene native and Lake City High School graduate didn’t see the appeal of living on the opposite side of the country. She wanted to find something closer to home and closer to her family.

Loffer found that seven hours south at the College of Idaho, where she’s become one of the more iconic players in program history.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” the senior shortstop and Yotes’ leadoff hitter said. “I couldn’t have chosen a better school. (Head coach) Al (Mendiola) and (assistant coach) Bobby (Wright) have been amazing coaches, and I’ve had amazing teammates throughout my four years. I’ve just been thankful for what this program has given me and allowed me to do. I just feel like I’ve always been trusted and there’s people who have my back.”

The Yotes (35-8, 20-4 Cascade Conference) host Southern Oregon this weekend in what could be the final home series in Loffer’s career. She has an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but hasn’t decided if she’ll take it yet. As Loffer closes in on her potential finale in Caldwell, she ranks in the top 10 for 12 different categories in the College of Idaho career record book. That includes school records in runs scored (168), walks (96) and stolen bases (95). She’s also one triple shy of matching the school record of 13 and five home runs shy of the career record of 24.

Loffer also helped lead the Yotes to a NAIA World Series appearance last season, batting .359 and with a team-high 11 home runs. The College of Idaho finished third at the World Series, its best-ever finish at a national tournament, but saw its season end with a loss to Southern Oregon, which went on to win the national title. Today’s doubleheader will be the first time since the Yotes and Raiders have met this season on the softball diamond.

In the latest NAIA softball poll, the College of Idaho ranks No. 7, while Southern Oregon (38-10, 18-6) ranks No. 10. Both teams are chasing No. 3 Oregon Tech (38-7, 22-2) in the Cascade Conference standings.

“We’re really excited to play them, just because they are a different team this year,” Loffer said. “They lost a lot of their key players, but they will still give us some competition.”

This season, Loffer is once again leading the way for the Yotes. She has a team-high .475 batting average and a .618 on base percentage. Loffer would rank 19th in the NAIA in batting average and second in the nation in on base percentage if she were qualified to be ranked among the nation’s leaders. But the NAIA requires players to play in at least 75 percent of their team’s games to qualify. Loffer has played in just under two-thirds of the Yotes’ games.

A good chunk of those missed games came during the first weekend of the season, when the Yotes played six games in Arizona. About 15 minutes before the opener against Ottawa (Ariz.) on Jan. 28, Loffer tested positive for COVID-19. She was taken out of the game and unable to play the entire weekend. Had she been able to play in all six games that weekend, she would currently be comfortably over the 75% mark.

While it was a disappointing way for Loffer to start the season, she was also able to look at it more from a team perspective. It gave her backup, sophomore Kaylee MacDannald, an opportunity to play the entire weekend, giving the Yotes added depth at shortstop.

“I don’t think I’ve dealt with anything worse, other than our season being cut short (in 2020),” said Loffer, who said she had been asymptomatic. “Being pulled right before the game, it broke my heart. I was devastated and it was really, really hard. But I really feel like it was a good thing for the team as a whole because it gave K-Mac more time at short and I felt like she grew as a player, being able to play just because I couldn’t. I was trying to look at the positives of it and I felt like that was a really good thing that happened.”

The Yotes were off the following two weekends, so Loffer made her debut the weekend of Feb. 17 during a six-game road trip to California. She was 11 for 18 from the plate that weekend, driving in six runs and crossing the plate 12 times.

Once again, she credits missing the weekend in Arizona for giving her a chance to reset and start her season fresh.

“Missing Arizona sucked, but it gave me more of a break, which I needed,” said Loffer. “I came back and played really well in California, then continued on. I felt like once I got to California, I was just on and I was playing really well.”

In the 29 games that Loffer has played in entering Friday’s doubleheader against Southern Oregon, she has recorded hits in 22 of them. Of those 22 games, 11 have been multi-hit games, including five that she had three hits. And once she gets on the base path, she continues doing damage. Loffer has been successful in all 22 of her stolen base attempts this season and scored 36 runs.

“I’ve really focused on how I’m playing and the overall team aspect of it,” she said. “Just because it is my senior year, I don’t want to take anything for granted. I’m really putting my all into practice and into games. I’m just really trying to focus on the now and enjoying every moment that I have.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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