A day planned nearly four years in advance. Custom shirts given out to family members far and wide for Christmas presents. The Harper family was more than prepared for a life-time first on Friday.
The Arizona Wildcats welcomed the Arizona State Sun Devils for another edition of the softball version of the Territorial Cup. The 2019 chapter of the rivalry had an added spice to it. As for Friday, Sun Devil freshman MaKenna Harper lined up on the opposite side of her sister, Jessie, the Wildcats’ star junior shortstop.
Arizona took the series opener 8-0, but for the Harper family, the result didn’t matter. They got to represent their Harper shirts filled with an Arizona ‘A’ and an ASU pitchfork for the E as they watched the sisters play the sport they love.
The sibling rivalry started before MaKenna had stepped onto ASU’s campus. Jessie Harper had the series-winning hit against ASU last season, that prompted the sisters to exchange text messages of ‘I wish you struck out’ and ‘ForksDown.’
“It’s a friendly competition that we have going on,” MaKenna said. “Of course I want her to do good, I was happy for her, but having so much pride in this school, we want to come out on top. It was frustrating even though I wasn’t here, I still wanted to see the Devils on top.”
MaKenna committed to ASU in her freshman year at West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch, California. A already committed Wildcat, Jessie was a bit shocked at her sister’s decision.
“She was at a Colorado tournament and she called me, I was so shocked,” Jessie said. “I was like, ‘you did what? what just happened?’ But at the end of the day if you think about it, she’s only an hour and 45 minutes down the road.”
The sisters are glad they can see each other on weekends, Jessie has made friends with a few of MaKenna’s Sun Devil teammates. Each sister has their own school, own identity and has MaKenna put it she avoided the idea of following in Jessie’s footsteps.
Did the sisters need two different teams to separate themselves? Probably not. MaKenna is left-handed, plays the outfield and hits for contact. While Jessie swings a powerful bat from the right-side that has her a top the Pac-12 rankings in homers and she plays the infield.
“They’re very different ,” said ASU head coach Trisha Ford, who worked with Jessie during their time on the USA National team. “Jessie is all softball 24-7 and MaKenna will tell you the same thing. They both come from the same background, they’re hard workers, they’re blue collar, they don’t complain. I think they look very similar, they have similar mannerisms, MaKenna doesn’t want me to say that out loud. They both just have a very carefree, you enjoy being around them personalities.”
MaKenna did reiterate what her coach had to say about her Wildcat sibling.
“Jessie is diehard softball,” MaKenna said. “Everything is eat, breathe, live softball. So every morning when she’d come back from (college) … we’re up at 7 a.m., we’re out on the field and if I missed a ball in the outfield she’d be on me. … We played two years of high school together and it was miserable. (It was) out of love, but you don’t want to hear it from your sister. She definitely made me a better player though, so I definitely appreciate the tough love.”
The sisters may show a few similarities, but their play and personalities couldn’t be more different. It was almost destiny that they’d end up on different ends of one of the biggest rivalries the sport offers.
“I think it’s how it was meant to be honestly,” MaKenna said. “Totally opposite, even our personalities. Our friends always say, ‘oh my god, I kind of see the resemblance, but your attitudes are so different, your positions are different. Yeah, I think it was made to work out that way.”
She may not wear maroon and gold, but Jessie is an easy person to look up to for her sister. An All-American in her freshman year and a multi-time All-Pac-12 conference player, Jessie has racked up the accolades.
“My sister is the hardest worker I know, hands down,” MaKenna said. “She deserves everything she’s accomplished and I can’t take anything away from her. I’d love to follow in her footsteps, just as one of the greatest softball players. I’m just so proud of her and I hope she keeps it up... not against us.”
Harper versus Harper volume two will be on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. from Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium. MaKenna’s Sun Devils will try to even up the series with the Jessie’s Wildcats.