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Q&A with Nevada's Haley Burda: From 'bullpen catcher' to Wolf Pack softball star

Haley Burda
Haley Burda helped Nevada beat No. 2 Washington last week. (Nevada athletics)

When Haley Burda first came to Nevada in 2016, many thought she'd max out as a bullpen catcher. She's done far more than that. A fifth-year senior, Burda has become a huge piece of the Wolf Pack the last half-decade and helped Nevada snare a win over No. 2-ranked Washington earlier this month with a three-hit, three-RBI game. She followed that with a game-winning two-run homer in extra innings to beat Montana two days later.

Not only does Burda lead the team from behind the plate as the starting catcher, she’s also had a lot of success off the field. The Riverside, Calif., native is doing an internship with the Reno Police Department while working on getting her Master's degree, not to mention having a part-time job and starring on the softball field.

Because of her strong performance on the field, her work ethic and her grind mentality, Burda is Nevada Sports Net’s Wolf Pack Athlete of the Month for February, an honor presented in partnership with Champion Chevrolet. You can watch our full interview with Burda below or check out the Q&A underneath that.

The softball team picked up one of the best wins in program history Friday afternoon after besting No. 2-ranked Washington at the Dixie State Classic, and you had a huge hand in that going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. How does that feel?

Burda: Feels awesome. Our adrenaline was through the roof. And honestly, like, we just outplayed them in every aspect. We outplayed them in hitting, defense and pitching. Everybody executed what they did and the pitchers, we ended up throwing all three of them and calling pitches to them and they hit their spots. We were just strategic with what we were doing. And our defense played behind them and our offense came together. They threw us, Kelley Lynch and Gabbie Plain, and we scored even off of Gabbie Plain (an All-American). So, I mean, we were really, really pumped and saw what we can actually do and can't wait to see what we accomplish this season.

With a win against a team like Washington how much confidence does this give your team?

Burda: I think that we came in there as they're just wearing the jersey, you know what I mean? Like, yeah, it says Washington, but we say Nevada. So we're Nevada, we're going to go out there and we don't care who's who, you know? And I think that had a big part of it. And we were just ready. Being No. 2 or whatever, you can be No. 1, it doesn't matter as long as you guys play your game daily out there and that’s what we did and even carried it to the next game. Dixie State we came out 13-0. So I mean we were just ready. This team is going to be something for sure.

You're a fifth-year senior, so how does that feel and what goals do you have going into this season?

Burda: Our major goal is a Mountain West championship. Definitely have had that on our mind throughout the years and then going to regional. But being a fifth year, I'm sure you guys heard we’re an extension of the coaching staff and we know what Coach (Josh Taylor) expects and we hold high expectations for others. I think that us being fifth year and coming back definitely plays a big role because our freshmen look up to us and we definitely come in and just try to do what coach taught us over the years, and it’s helped us a lot.

How do you think you’ve grown not just as a player but as a person during your time here at Nevada?

Burda: I think I've grown a lot. I mean, there's been ups and downs for sure. I've remembered a lot of downs, more than ups. But I think that taking every day and trying to get 1 percent better is always something I took and still do to this day. I have a story coming in here, and I wanted to prove people wrong. I got told I was going to just be a bullpen catcher. And that honestly just motivated me even more. And I ended up starting my first game freshman year and I was like, ‘Holy crap. Okay, I'm going in,’ and just like went up from there. I definitely had people that were seniors that helped me out like you, Shannon (Kelly). And I think that that's also a number one thing for us fifth years is to be that role model for the girls, because we want this program to go up and not down. We just want to keep building that culture. I do think that we've played a big role in our cultural change and it's kind of still changing, obviously. But that's also another one of our big goals for Coach T, to have this team that really wants to be there. I just love to compete and I still do like it. It doesn't feel like my fifth year. I can keep going even though I'm a grandma.

With everything that you’re juggling from school, to your internship, to work and softball, how do you keep up with everything and maintain your stamina for games?

Burda: I've caught a lot of games and I think I do put a lot of time into working out outside of softball to keep my legs in shape. I do a lot outside of the field and I think that has a major role into how I've progressed as a player. But definitely, when my body needs rest, I'll take it. But usually I'm just go, go, go.

In the first two weekends, you guys are sitting at 7-3, you have the game-winning home run against Montana in the last game of the final series there. With softball being on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, how does it feel being back and getting into the swing of things?

Burda: A lot more normal than in the fall. Fall is kind of different just because we usually had individuals and team practice and individuals and we didn't get that time at all. We just got six weeks and that's it. And then with quarantining some girls and back and forth. But no, it definitely feels a lot more normal. I mean, honestly, I know I had the game-winning hit, but I definitely have give it to our bench for that game because they came in and they got big hits when we needed them. Coach had asked three different people to go get warmed up and they came in and had quality at bats.

You're a beast on the field. But aside from on the field, you're also a beast off the field with the amount of grind you have from everything you juggle. How do you tell yourself to just keep going?

Burda: I use people as my motivation, my parents. I would not be anywhere without them today, and I just want to thank them and try my best to help them out and know that they put me on the right path in life. My brother is super supportive of me. I live with him now. And the people around me for sure motivate me. I definitely feel like I have it better than others. I'm just super thankful for the opportunities I have because some people out there can't even get a job and I just think about that. And I'm like, ‘Why am I complaining?’ I have it so good and so I just keep going on a daily basis. And I know some of my other teammates are also grinders, so they definitely help me every single day. I just want to make everybody proud of me and try my best on a daily basis. And some days are harder than others. But I worked through it.

Tell us a little bit about your internship and what you want to do after your time is done at Nevada.

Burda: So right now I'm doing my internship with the Reno Police Department, Victim Service Unit team, and I've gotten a lot of different opportunities to look around what I want to do, which was super cool. I'm definitely more towards evidence with the detectives right now, and I definitely want to become a community police officer. It's about dealing with sex trafficking and sexual assault, sexual abuse, different cases, hit and runs, stuff like that that I'm super interested in. I could go juvenile route. I don't know yet. I kind of am juggling two things at once, but whatever kind of position opens up for me, that's what I'm going to take.

I was reading an interview that you had done earlier this year. You talked about how your dad played football at San Diego State and then went on to play baseball at UCSD. Would you say that you get your competitiveness from him?

Burda: Yeah, I do. My mom's also kind of competitive, but for sure, my dad. He's kind of like quiet in the back, doesn't say much, but I know that he's proud of me. And he's the one that always gives me crap, you know, every time, but I know I make him proud. So that's all that matters. He was actually also a catcher. He went to go and play overseas for a little bit as well. I definitely get my athletic abilities from him.

You mentioned your mom sacrificed a lot for your career. When you say sacrifice, what does that mean to you?

Burda: I had a crazy schedule when I was in high school to where I was a cheerleader and a softball player. And I played high school softball with travel ball. And I had a zero period on top of all this. She would have to take me in the mornings and then she would have to pick me up, drive me to travel ball, drive me to back to high school, drive me back to travel just every morning. She would be the first one to be up and getting me ready for my games. She just sacrificed a lot on the weekends for me and she was there every single game. She never missed a game practice. She was always there. I'm super thankful. And it's not cheap to put your kids through lessons and travel ball and everything that you need as a kid. So that's the new bats, the new gloves, the new cleats. You want it all. So they definitely helped. My dad sacrificed a lot for me. So that's my number one motivation for sure. My parents just give it back to them the best I can.

Before your time with softball comes to end what do you want to take away these last few months at Nevada?

Burda: I've actually thought about this a lot because I'm like, ‘Wow, another weekend's done.’ It's crazy how fast it goes, but I just want to take in all the moments and every time I step on that dirt I just want to be present on the field and be the best version of myself. I don't want to ever give up a game or give away a game because I never know what can happen. I mean, last year we were on the way to Vegas (when the season was canceled) and I thought I would never play softball again, you know? My three other seniors are my best friends and we've been so close. And to be able to be here with them and live every day with them is awesome. So it's been going really good for sure. I'm super pumped up to see what this team can accomplish.

Five fun facts

Favorite food: Steak

Favorite place to go in Reno: Tahoe

Hidden talent: “I’ve got some dance moves.”

Favorite artist: Luke Combs

Wolf Pack fans be surprised to learn about you: "That I use to be a cheerleader."

For previous Wolf Pack Athletes of the Month Q&As, click here.

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