Softball sisters to reunite on the field, this time as rivals

Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Jessie Harper (19) hits a home run during the fourth inning of the Arizona-St. Francis game of the NCAA championship Tournament on Friday May 18 at the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The run scores the cats the first point of the game.

It’s not often that two siblings get to compete at the Division I level, let alone have the opportunity to play against each other. For Arizona’s Jessie Harper and Arizona State University’s MaKenna Harper, the matchup has been a long time coming. The sisters will play against each other for the first time when Arizona softball faces off against ASU March 29-31 in Tucson. Jessie Harper, a junior and Arizona’s starting shortstop, is eager to be back on the field with her younger sister.  

“We’ve been together every step of the way,” Jessie said. “[MaKenna] committed in the middle of her freshman year. It was definitely no surprise that eventually one day we would be sharing the same field again, just on opposite sides. I am really excited.”

Jessie and MaKenna Harper come from a family of Division I athletes. Their dad played football at Colorado, and their mom played softball at Cal State Northridge. 

“Our parents have been our biggest supporters. It’s definitely awesome when I come home and my dad’s like, ‘Let’s go hit ground balls,’ and my sister’s always around, and we’re doing it together,” Jessie said.

Arizona's Jessie Harper (19) catches an incoming ball to second and gets New Mexico State player out during the Arizona-New Mexico State game at the Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium on Wednesday April 18 in Tucson Ariz.

Even though the upcoming weekend is projected to be nothing short of a competitive, Pac-12 top-20 matchup, the UA’s Harper said softball has always remained a form of family bonding. 

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“It’s a way that we’ve stayed connected. My sister is my biggest motivator. She pushes me, I push her.” 

While Jessie is expected to have a big impact on the three-game series, MaKenna, a freshman, most likely will not.  

“This year is definitely her learning year. That’s the key in coming to college: You learn from people who are ahead of you. My big person was Mo Mercado [a decorated former Arizona shortstop]. She was a good role model for me. So as long as she can learn from their three outfielders now, I feel like next year will be a good year for her,” Jessie said.

As for which team the Harper sisters’ family will be rooting for, that part of the weekend seems to be less important.

“I got them the tickets, so they’re definitely going to be sitting on our side,” Jessie joked. 

Although their family may be sitting with the Arizona fans, they’ll still be cheering on both Jessie and MaKenna. Their mother, Danielle Harper, ordered custom-made T-shirts with the last name “Harper” written across the front with the Arizona block ‘A’ and the ASU trident incorporated into the letters. Jessie’s No. 19 and MaKenna’s No. 55 are also on either sleeve. 

Even though it will be a stressful weekend for the Harper family, Arizona head coach Mike Candrea is not worried. 

“I think Jessie knows what her color of her uniform is. Sisters will always be sisters, you can’t worry about that; I kind of embrace that opportunity. The odds of two players from the same family playing at the Division I level is tough enough,” Candrea said. “I’m sure it’s not going to be a distraction. Jessie will go about her business, and her sister will go about her business, and at the end of the day, they’re going to hug each other. It’s how it should be.”

Arizona's Jessie Harper (19) runs towards home plate after hitting a home run during the fourth inning of the Arizona-St. Francis game of the NCAA championship Tournament on Friday May 18 at the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The run scored the cats the first and only point of the game.

Games between the Wildcats and the Sun Devils always provide intrigue and drama, with this year no different, as both teams are ranked in the top 30.

“I definitely do think it’s going to be crazy; I mean, we have our home run hitters, and they have theirs,” Jessie said. “Our pitching has been doing really well lately. As long as our pitchers keep doing what they’re doing, that’s pretty much the main thing. We know that they’re good hitters, but we are too, so I think it’s going to be a good competition, that’s for sure.”

Who knows, maybe MaKenna will get the chance to pinch run at second. "I'll probably just give her a slight nod, try to keep it cool though, nothing too crazy,” Jessie said, laughing. “At the end of the day, our family couldn’t be prouder that we’re both living out our dreams and playing Division-I softball, competing with the very best and being coached by some of the best.”  

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