Coming into Huntington Beach High, Rachel Harris knew she wanted to play two sports.
Girls’ basketball and girls’ soccer just happened to be in the same season, which made things tricky.
“I sat down with Melissa [Vandenbosch], the athletic director,” Harris said. “She was like, ‘Yeah, we can make this work.’ We had went to eighth-grade parent night, and they said they had no problem with it. Huntington likes to have the two-sport athletes in the same season, and there’s a lot of kids who do fall, winter and spring sports.”
After all, this is the school that graduated former NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez, who once earned Sunset League MVP honors in basketball and played both sports at Cal. Harris is not exactly 6-foot-5 like Gonzalez, she’s 5-7, but she has made a big impact in both the girls’ soccer and basketball programs for the Oilers.
The senior is a four-year varsity player in soccer, and has been on the varsity basketball team for three seasons. In soccer, she plays a big role as a goalkeeper, and is a key reason why Huntington Beach is two-time defending Sunset League champion.
In basketball, the guard/forward averages about five points per game. But her real value is as a defensive specialist, getting steals and taking tough defensive assignments.
“She’s just a natural athlete,” Huntington Beach girls’ basketball coach Russell McClurg said. “When you watch her run to a ball or steal a pass, it looks almost like she’s diving for a ball in soccer. She would probably be a starter if she was there all the time on time. She does play major minutes for us.”
Yes, there’s the issue of time. Playing two sports in the same season requires sacrifice. Harris generally leaves basketball practice around halfway through at 2 p.m., to join the soccer team. The latter is the sport she will play in college, at the University of Arkansas.
Game days are no less tricky. The Oilers’ soccer games under the lights usually start at 5 p.m., with basketball at 7.
“If we go to overtime [in soccer], I’ll get [to basketball] in the middle of the first quarter, possibly the end of the first quarter,” Harris said. “If we finish on time, I’ll get there and have my stuff on before we even start warming up.”
Both teams are having success. The girls’ soccer team suffered a tough overtime loss to Newport Harbor on Thursday night, but the Oilers are 3-2-1 in league, which is tied for second place with four matches remaining. The Huntington girls’ basketball team, led by Concordia-bound senior forward Frankie Wade-Sanchez, is 4-1 in league headed into a showdown at undefeated Los Alamitos on Monday.
Soccer, the sport that Harris plays for Slammers FC, is her priority. Last summer, she helped her Slammers Under-17 team finish fourth at the Elite Clubs National League national championships, part of the club winning the ECNL Overall Club Championship as the top club in the country.
“Since day one, Rachel is one of those special athletes,” Huntington Beach girls’ soccer coach Raul Ruiz said. “She’s a natural leader that sparks and changes the game with her great saves. It inspires you as a coach, because you know on the field that she not only gives confidence to the rest of her teammates, but to her whole back line. She allows other players to step up and play better, just knowing that somebody’s in goal that’s going to guarantee you leadership. That’s what you look for in a good player. Definitely a D1 player.”
Harris, one of just four seniors remaining on the girls’ soccer team, has led the Oilers to the quarterfinals and second round, respectively, of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs the last two seasons. Both times, Huntington lost to Long Beach Poly, Harris’ sophomore year in penalty kicks and last year on a golden goal. She said there was much satisfaction when the Oilers were able to beat the Jackrabbits this season, at the Mater Dei tournament.
Tough losses are part of the job, especially as a goalie. But Harris has handled them with class. The Oilers lost to Edison last week on a golden goal in the final minute of overtime, a play when Harris perhaps hesitated a bit too long coming out to challenge. She took to social media after the game to express her thoughts.
“In less than a second games are won and lost,” she wrote on her Twitter account, @_harrisrachel. “Words are hard to find, but you can’t make assumptions. You have to live with choices you make and move on.”
There will always be another game, especially for the two-sport athlete. Huntington Beach freshman Xolani Hodel is another girl who is playing both varsity soccer and basketball this season.
Harris comes from an athletic family. Her younger twin sisters, Lyndsay and Sydney, are fifth graders. Lyndsay has a black belt in taekwondo, and Sydney is a competitive gymnast. None of the three girls followed the path of their mom, Tracy, who played college tennis and remains competitive in that sport.
Tracy is the longtime community relations manager for the Orange County Breakers of World Team Tennis, and oversees the ball kids. Rachel started as a ball kid for the Breakers and for the past several years also has been inside the costume of Flutterfrog, the Breakers mascot, at home matches.
That streak will end this year, as Rachel will leave for college in Arkansas first.
“I’ll miss that for sure,” Rachel Harris said. “Who knows, I could be the mascot at Arkansas. Probably not, but I do have that experience.”