Dallis Goodnight laughs at the question — when did you realize you were fast? — and then pauses briefly to consider the answer.
“When I was little I guess,” the Mill Creek senior said. “Everyone just mentioned it. … In Field Day, I would race the fastest boys.”
Opposing softball teams know Goodnight’s speed well.
Whether it’s tracking down a ball in center field that looks uncatchable, legging out a bunt, stealing a base or racing around the diamond, she causes havoc all over the field.
“(Goodnight) really pushes the defense to where it’s almost hard to be right,” Mill Creek head coach Paul Pierce said. “You come in too far and she’s going to try to make you pay by hitting it hard past you or over your head. If you lay back, she’s going to drop the bunts down. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s fun to watch her play.”
The Alabama Crimson Tide recruit hit .528 last season with 15 RBIs, 30 runs scored and 39 stolen bases, and boosted her batting average to .607 with runners in scoring position. That came on the heels of a sophomore season when she hit .563 with 20 RBIs, 39 runs and 44 stolen bases.
Over the past two seasons, she also has 12 triples, showcasing the speed she uses in the spring as a member of the Hawks’ track and field team.
Goodnight also brings intensity and toughness that set an example for the other Hawks, Pierce said.
“She’s a perfectionist, which is great because everything she does, she wants to be perfect at it, whether it’s the first time she’s ever done it or whether she’s been doing it a long time,” Pierce said. “That can get you in trouble some because she does not accept not doing well. It’s a game of failure. She does not just take it easy and go on. She holds a grudge and she expects to do well. I think that kind of rubs off on everybody else, that it isn’t just another day, bring your A game every day. I think she expects a lot of her teammates. I think she expects a lot of me as a coach. She holds me accountable, which is good. … She likes to win. She hates to lose. She may hate to lose more than she likes to win.”
Goodnight doesn’t disagree, though she said the sport has taught her patience. The constant learning process is part of the reason she still has such a deep love for a sport she chose over ballet, soccer and basketball at a young age.
“I think (softball) was just more fun (than the other sports), there were more people, more things to do,” Goodnight said. “Now the people I’m around is what I love and also the things you can learn from softball. It’s a game of failure, literally. It’s taught me a lot on how to be a better person and how to deal with failure. The outcomes will come, just trust the process and have fun.”
Not overdoing softball at a young age kept it fun, too.
“A lot of girls went to big travel teams super early on and lost the love for the game,” Goodnight said. “My dad kept me out of those super travel teams that travel all over the country when you’re 10 years old. I was just playing for fun up until eighth grade year and ninth grade year I just made a switch. I just learned from the players above me and I’ve always had the passion for the game. I still do. I love it. I know some people that don’t and it’s hard to play good when you don’t love what you’re doing.”
Among Goodnight’s softball lessons was a major switch when she was a 12-and-under player. The right-handed batter was switched to a left-handed slapper to take advantage of her speed. As the years progressed, she became more than just a slapper from the left-handed side of the plate.
“When I started learning how to swing lefty it was more fun to have more tools to use,” she said.
Goodnight’s defensive skills also are game-changing, Pierce said. The coach regularly marvels when his center fielder tracks down balls he expects to hit the grass. As good as she is in the outfield, he said she could get on the field at the college level at other positions, too.
She chose Alabama over Washington, Texas and Georgia almost a year ago.
“I look forward to seeing how (college softball at Alabama) works out,” Pierce said. “I know she’s a tremendous athlete. She takes a lot of ground balls here on the infield. Some of the college coaches have asked me, ‘What about her in the infield?’ I think she’s taken that to heart. She takes a lot of ground balls and has earned her way. … The more great players you can put on the field at one time, the better you’re going to be. The more positions she can play and hold her own and even be at the elite level is going to help her and the program she’s going to.”
Goodnight’s summer softball with the Georgia Impact was disrupted by COVID-19 — her team had to juggle tournaments around cancellations and missed a big one because of a teammate’s positive coronavirus test — but she still feels positive heading into her final high school season. With the school year starting online only in Gwinnett, the hopes are for the softball season and all fall sports to play their seasons without major problems.
“I think it’s going to happen,” Goodnight said of the fall high school season. “I think it’s going to just be the locker rooms are going to be different, the dugouts are going to be different. I’m kind of scared for state because of everyone on the same bus and hotels. But I think they’re going to find a way to make it happen.”
And if it does happen, she thinks Mill Creek’s team has great potential despite some key graduation losses.
“I wasn’t sure because we did lose a few starters and I wasn’t sure how pitching was going to be this year,” Goodnight said. “I still don’t know, but two of the girls (who pitch) have been working hard and we even have a freshman that has been working. I saw our defense and we have a good defense. We can pull our way through to state.”