CARBONDALE -- SIU's softball coaches discovered Hall of Fame infielder Lauren (Haas) Peters by accident.
Head coach Kerri Blaylock and assistant coach Buddy Foster were watching another potential recruit at a tournament in Colorado when they heard a raucous celebration behind them. Haas had just hit a home run, something she would do for the Salukis 24 times between 2005-08.
"She was playing shortstop, and I could tell she was an athlete immediately, and, just, the more I watched her, she was on fire that whole week and I told Kerri this may be a kid that we can look at," Foster said.
Foster thought, with time in SIU's strength and conditioning program, she could become at least a powerful doubles hitter. Haas hit .320 for her career and left school in third place in career home runs and fifth in doubles, with 33. Today she ranks eighth in school history in doubles and tied for fourth place all-time in home runs with Erin Stremsterfer (1998-2001).
"When I saw her she had really good gap power. Of course, Colorado, you don't know if the high altitude was helping out with that, but she was athletic enough that I thought if she got in the weight program that she could hit the ball," he said.
The 5-foot-8 infielder developed into the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year as a senior. Even though SIU finished third in the Valley in 2008, Haas won the award after batting .388 with 39 RBIs. She overcame arthroscopic knee surgery the summer before and a blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP for short) that limited her platelet count. Haas took medication to control the chronic condition, she said, and had to be monitored to make sure it was safe for her to compete.
"I always knew I would play. We never discussed me not playing," Haas said. "I had to be monitored to make sure it was safe for me to play. I guess it was never a guarantee, but I knew there wasn't going to be anything to stop me from playing."
Blaylock, one of only two coaches in Saluki history to win more than 500 games, called Haas one of her toughest leaders, on and off the field.
"You look back in the record books, and she kind of did it quietly," she said. "You look back now and you go 'Wow, she's in all these categories,' but I don't think this was this flashy player. She just did it very quietly. I knew she had a Hall of Fame career, and I'm really pleased that she's able to make it in. She was one of the grittiest, toughest kids that I ever coached."
SIU won the Valley championship in Haas' first season in 2005 and reached three NCAA tournaments during her career (2005, 2006 and 2007). She turned down an offer from Georgia to sign with the Salukis, and will now join Muhammad Abdulqaadir, Alison Hiller, Harry Gallatin, Charles Ropiequet and Bob Schroeck in the 2015 Hall of Fame class on Friday night at a ceremony in Carbondale.
"I was completely shocked," Haas said, after receiving the call from former athletic director Mario Moccia telling her she had made the Hall. "I had no idea why he would be calling me, but that didn't even cross my mind as a possibility. I'm still not sure. I feel like I had a successful career at SIU, but I just don't know. It's still very surreal. I'm honored, truly honored, but it's still very surreal."
Haas, 29, was a three-time MVC scholar-athlete. She works for the Department of the Navy back home in Washington in foreign military sales, selling U.S. products and services to allied nations. Last September she went to Thailand for work but now doesn't go much further than Canada with a 2-year-old son, Camden.
Her husband, Ryan Peters, also works for the Navy. The couple is expecting their second child, a daughter, in May.