Harrison Sisters Find Unique Bond On Softball Field

by Ryan Reiswig

It was early this season when UCLA's softball team sat down for a meeting, and its significance was known only by a few.

The team was gathered together so the coaches could inform them that one of their top players, shortstop Monica Harrison, was lost for the season and possibly the rest of her career with an upper-body injury. Aside from the coaches, only one other person knew about this injury: Monica's sister, outfielder Andrea Harrison.

"In the beginning of the season we had hope that she'd come back," says Andrea, who is one year younger than Monica. "She's one of the best defensive shortstops in the country. We had to let the team know that she wasn't going to be out there on the field. I knew because I'm family, but when it was told to the team it hit me differently. I wasn't really expecting as much emotion about it but I just sat there and realized wow, is this really happening."

Andrea and Monica are very close; there's no sense of sibling rivalry. The two sisters spent their time as youngsters essentially preparing themselves for this time in their lives, practicing softball together relentlessly and developing into the players they are today. Following the meeting, Andrea decided to do something in honor of her sister. She planned to wear Monica's number 18 for the rest of the season.

"For me, my number didn't really mean that much," says Andrea, who like her sister attended Pacifica High School in their native Garden Grove, Calif. "I was a different number in high school, when I got to college I was number 8. I know 18 has been her number since she was a kid."

The reason for Andrea changing to number 18 goes much deeper, however.

"It was the kind of thing where it was time to play for somebody else besides myself," says Andrea. "It's worked for me. I think playing for yourself, it's easy to get caught up in the game and get a little selfish and start basing your performance on outcome."

The number 18 has been as nice to Andrea as it was to her sister. Andrea finished her junior season with an impressive .409 batting average to go along with her 15 home runs and 52 RBI. The left-hander accomplished all this while starting in all 55 of the Lady Bruins' games this year.

If you ask Andrea, she'd more than likely deflect a lot of the credit for her success to her injured sister. As great as she's played in the sport, she wasn't always the one chomping at the bit to go out and practice.

"There's instances where we'd be at home in the summer and our travel ball season would be over," explains Andrea. "I'd just want to hang out, go to the movies, go to the beach; and then my sister would say 'Let's go grab our bats, let's go grab our gloves.' We'd ride our bikes or skateboards to the local high school and she would say 'Hit me grounders.' I would put my batting gloves on because she wanted so many grounders out there at shortstop. It just made me realize how much love she had for the game and I completely think that's why I love the game as well."

Along with being great players individually, the Harrison sisters bring a special element to the game when they're playing together.

"There's a whole different level of softball when those two are on the field because they have an ability to communicate," says head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, in her fifth season leading the Lady Bruins. "They know each other so well. They know how to pick each other up when someone isn't doing well. They've won at every level and continue to impact the lineup, and if you really watch closely those two are very strong leaders on every team."

From the moment Andrea stepped foot on UCLA's softball field she has made an impact. Starting with her freshman season in 2009 in which she was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team, to last year when she was named to the Women's College World Series All-Tournament Team, Andrea has been vital to the team's success.

"She's a dynamic player," says Inouye-Perez of Andrea. "She's someone who has started leading from the time she stepped on the campus. In the recruiting process we were hopeful to be able to get the two of them to play together. They've led championship teams throughout the history of their career. They're even stronger together."

"Together" is a constant for Andrea and her sister. Even if they have friends or family visiting for the weekend, nothing detracts them from their pre-game routine, which includes a meal together before every game.

"Ever since high school we always have to get a meal together before the game," says Andrea. "We've done that since my freshman year in high school. We're going to go get our bagel and cream cheese or McDonald's for breakfast."

An avid Lakers fan, she shares a similar habit of small-forward Lamar Odom. Both have a love for candy, and they both consume it before and during games. The only difference is Odom's brother most likely isn't the one going to purchase the sweets and put it in his brother's locker.

"Before the game she buys me a pack of Swedish fish and puts them in my locker or my backpack," laughs Andrea. "I'm very crazy about sugar and sweets. It's like our pregame ritual."

The Harrison sister's aren't the only recent sister duo to play for the Lady Bruin softball team. Current Bruin Katie Schroeder played with her sister Jennifer on the 2008 team. But Inouye-Perez doesn't necessarily target sister-combos when recruiting.

"The best part about being where we are is there's a very high level of talent in the southern California area," says Inouye-Perez. "We grow up playing softball year round. Families are very committed to the sport. With older sisters being at the highest level, there's a good chance the younger sisters are going to be able to perform as well. It's a family commitment in softball."

Admittingly, Andrea says her decision to attend UCLA was made a bit easier because Monica was already there.

"It's almost a dream come true," says Andrea. "I thank God everyday that me and my sister live together, go to the same school together, she can help me with homework. It's far beyond the softball field. I think our connection between us is closer than anyone can ever imagine between two sisters. I feel really blessed that we were given this opportunity."

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