High school rivals become college teammates

Senior Harlie Barkley (left) and sophomore Bailey Nelson reflect on their former high school rivalry at the UNA softball complex. Nelson, from Central High School, and Barkley, from Wilson High School, became teammates in 2014 after an intense cross-town rivalry dating back to 2010.

The UNA softball team is in the midst of their most successful season in program history. With one more weekend series remaining before the conference tournament, team chemistry is necessary.

For two UNA players, that chemistry has not always been easy.

Senior third baseman Harlie Barkley and sophomore outfielder Bailey Nelson were previously high school rivals. Nelson was a member of the Central High School softball team until 2014, and Barkley was a standout at rival Wilson High School until 2012.

A short 10.5-mile drive separates the two county high schools in Florence. Many softball followers know both teams for having exceptional softball programs.

“I didn’t like Wilson,” Nelson said. “I hated Wilson. It wasn’t the girls. It was just the place.”

Barkley said her hatred came from watching Central defeat her school since her elementary school years.

“It seemed like Central just beat us all the time, so that’s why growing up I never liked them,” Barkley said.

Based on a conversation between the two, Barkley is quick to point out her reasoning for the rivalry.

“Y’all were cocky,” Barkley said to Nelson about Central High School.

Nelson, baffled by Barkley’s remarks, said there was a difference in “cockiness and confidence.”

“Yeah, you were cocky,” Barkley said.

It didn’t take long for the two to learn to coexist, as each decided to sign with the Lions after their senior seasons.

After graduating high school, Barkley said she chose UNA over Columbia State because she wanted to stay close to home. Two years later, Nelson faced the same decision and chose to stay in Florence as well. She credits Barkley for helping her make that decision.

“Since she was a local girl, and I am a local girl, it kind of made me think it was possible to come here,” Nelson said.

In their second year as teammates, the two have helped the UNA softball program (43-5, 27-3 Gulf South Conference) break the single season record for wins. Nelson is hitting .388, which is the third highest average among the starters for the team. Barkley is hitting .356 on the season and is second on the team in doubles with 16.

UNA head softball coach Ashley Cozart says regardless of their past, she is thrilled to have them both on her team.

“Harlie is the definition of a student athlete,” Cozart said. “I can’t say enough about her both offensively and defensively and how important she is to this team.”

Cozart said the transition Nelson has made from her freshman to sophomore year is impressive.

“(Nelson) has completely just been a table-setter for us,” Cozart said. “She’s really matured and become a huge part of our team.”

Both players said they have developed a great friendship in their time at UNA, but there is still a good bit of joking between the two players about their former rivalry.

“We hang out every day,” Barkley said. “But we still joke about (the rivalry).”

Nelson said she no longer views Barkley as a rival, but rather someone she admires.

“Harlie is such a hard worker,” she said. “She is very good about staying positive, and I really look up to her in that way.”

Nelson, Barkley and the Lions hope to knock off a conference rival, Christian Brothers, to close the regular season April 23-24. UNA will then host the GSC tournament April 28-30 at the UNA softball complex.