Hhana Haro and Tori Homolka held two totally different viewpoints regarding the state of Nebraska at the time they finalized their college choices in 2017. Haro looked around, saw seemingly endless fields of corn and wasn’t sure it was for her. Meanwhile, Homolka grew up in small-town Swanton, Neb., and felt at ease with the pace and the surroundings at Concordia University, Nebraska.
Said Haro following her freshman year, “The first semester I was really homesick. I wasn’t sure if Concordia was the place for me because I was so far from home.” On the other hand, Homolka immediately felt like this was “an atmosphere that I could fit into.”
Now as seniors, Haro and Homolka both rave about the experiences they’ve enjoyed in Seward. Haro quickly made friends who helped ease her home sickness while Homolka found Concordia to be the fit she expected. Haro even learned to do what the locals do by working as a detassler in the summer and Homolka sure has come a long way since she nearly “burned down the dorms” as a freshman while making ramen noodles (an occurrence she tried to play off as if someone else did it).
As for the softball part of it, Haro and Homolka have been cornerstones of the program for all four years of their collegiate careers. Oftentimes since 2018, they have found themselves playing right alongside one another with – Homolka at short and Haro at third. When they graduate, they will leave behind a gaping hole on the left side of the infield.
Said Homolka, “Starting from freshman year we would play beside each other. It’s kind of funny because I remember when (former coach Todd) LaVelle would have me at third and Hhana at first. We would go to each other and be like, ‘I want to play first,’ and she goes, ‘I want to play third.’ So he switched the lineup. Ever since we’ve been playing by each other – short and third – we just know what each other is going to do. I feel like we just feed off each other, but there are lots of other girls who can get the job done too.”
It was a luxury for Head Coach Shawn Semler to take over a team that already had rising stars like Haro and Homolka (and others). A native of Garden Grove, Calif., Haro has hit a staggering .446 for her career and was the GPAC Player of the Year in 2018. She needs five more hits to become just the third player in program history to reach 200 for a career. Haro and Homolka were both first team All-GPAC selections in 2019. In her career, Homolka has slugged .597 with 63 extra base hits.
Considering their years at Concordia have aligned exactly, it will be difficult to think about this era of Bulldog Softball without recalling the exploits of the star duo.
Said Haro, “It’s been great. We’ve grown to be really good friends on and off the field. She and I put our trust in each other. It’s great having that person on the field you can always look to. I feel like we always have each other’s back.”
The two standouts were a bridge from one head coach to another, LaVelle to Semler, and will likely always remember the despair that was felt when the 2020 season was abruptly ended by COVID-19. Haro had her own bout with the virus prior to the opening of the campaign. That likely had something to do with a slow start to this season, but Haro has been red hot again with 18 hits over the last nine games.
Beyond the results on the field, Haro has found an identity and has grown to be a more resilient person. There were benefits to spreading her wings and flying away from home for college. Soon she’ll be back near home for graduate school at Cal State Riverside. “I think I’ve grown into my own person with not having my parents be there every step of the way,” Haro said. “I had to learn to grow by myself, be on my own schedule and be at a certain place at a certain time.”
When people talk about the special nature of Concordia, the special people that carry out the school’s mission and vision are often the focus. Homolka will cherish the relationships and connections made with teammates, coaches and professors. As an upperclassmen, Homolka has lived in a house with four of her best friends.
“Making the friendships I’ve had (has been most rewarding),” Homolka said. “I’ll also be able to take what I’ve learned on the field, in the weight room and in the class room into my future career as I hope to be a coach soon. I feel like I can take a lot out of it and learn how to love the game from that perspective.”
Haro won’t forget the memories she’s made with her friends. She and catcher Allysia Thayer became particularly close friends as college teammates. Said Haro, “I always thought about playing at this level when I was younger. I’m definitely going to miss it. As we’re getting closer to the end, those memories of traveling and being on the bus are going to stand out more than they would have.”
As of this writing, Haro and Homolka are getting ready to lead the Bulldogs into the GPAC tournament. Perhaps it’s fitting that Concordia must go through the Morningside Bracket and the longtime nemesis Mustangs in order to live out its national tournament dream. When this 2021 team plays to its full potential behind stars like Haro, Homolka, Camry Moore and Kylee Nixon, the ceiling is sky high.
This spring, the highlight has been a 10-7 upset of an Oklahoma City squad currently ranked No. 2 in the NAIA. Homolka delivered the big blow of that game with a three-run homer in the fourth. When Nos. 23 and 33 are on your side, you always have a chance to win.
Years down the road, the home runs, the defensive gems and the wins will fade, but not the relationships and shared moments of laughter and joy. Said Hhana, “The University has brought so many good memories.” Added Tori, “I am so glad to say that I will graduate from Concordia University.”