Andrea Harrison wasn’t supposed to be at UCLA. At least, that’s what her eighth grade counselor thought when the counselor informed Harrison she would likely not even graduate high school. Harrison believed it.
Having struggled in school to the point where she took the SAT seven times and the ACT five times, Harrison thought college softball just wasn’t an option.
The coaching staff at UCLA saw things differently. They remained fully committed to Harrison in the recruiting process, visiting the smooth-swinging lefty’s high school with the hope that she would work to become eligible. Harrison made sacrifices, dedicated herself to school and joined UCLA in 2009 as a college freshman.
“I was a junior (in high school) and I said, “˜You know what, if they believe in me, why don’t I believe in myself,’ and I committed to school,” the senior utility said of the UCLA staff. “I stopped playing (travel) softball my senior year just to be here, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Getting to UCLA was one thing for Harrison. Becoming one of the top hitters in the history of the school was another. She finished her career tied for third all-time in home runs with 55.
“It’s definitely an honor; (it’s) something that I didn’t even know I was capable of,” Harrison said. “For people throwing out your name … like you’re this many away from Stacey Nuveman, it’s definitely an honor because this is the top program.”
Redshirt senior center fielder Katie Schroeder was a teammate of Harrison’s as far back as high school, when the two played on a travel ball team together.
While warming up in the outfield during a game earlier this year, the two learned that they had been drafted by the National Pro Fastpitch league.
Harrison, with the fourth overall pick, was taken by the USSSA Florida Pride. Schroeder was selected sixth overall by the Chicago Bandits.
The professional softball league draft took place March 7 and the players were ineligible to sign with teams until the completion of their college season.
Now that the season is over following UCLA’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament, Schroeder can sign a contract and will fly out to Chicago next week to join the team.
“Obviously, it’s hard losing now and then flying out and playing for a different team,” Schroeder said. “But just being able to not hang the cleats up and play this game that has taught me so much and is continuing to teach me so many life lessons, I just couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to go play.”
Although the pro softball season starts in June, Harrison will join the Pride later in the summer after she completes her final class at UCLA.
“A relationship like that doesn’t come around very often,” Harrison said of Schroeder and herself.
“We were not only friends off the field, but we had a lot of trust within each other on the field. The trust and relationship that we built, not a lot of people have that,” she added.
In 2010, the two shared in helping UCLA win a national championship. Harrison’s grand slam in the second inning of the championship game against Arizona propelled UCLA to a 15-9 win to clinch the program’s all-time leading 11th NCAA title.
“I tell people all the time I don’t think I’ll have that again until I get married or have a kid; it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Harrison said of the 2010 championship.
“I ended up hitting a grand slam in the championship game, and I didn’t even know. I got back into the dugout, and my best friend Brooke (Finley) was like, “˜You hit a grand slam.’ I was like, what? That’s how dialed in we were to everything. I didn’t even realize exactly what was happening.”
Seven games into the 2010 season, Schroeder was rounding second base when her left leg gave out. She suffered a season-ending stress fracture.
“It was definitely something I never saw myself going through,” Schroeder said of the injury.
“You dream as a little kid of being on that stage and playing in Oklahoma City, and I saw myself in center field, and that dream kind of changed, but it shaped me and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have taken that back for anything. We won a championship and being a part of that in a different way, in a different role, was powerful for me as a person.”
UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez cited Schroeder’s positive attitude as part of a strong team culture that year and a reason why the Bruins were able to do what they did.
“(That season) will be something that everybody remembers for the rest of their lives because it was a powerful culture that allowed us to play our best softball when it mattered most,” Inouye-Perez said.
Schroeder was awarded a medical redshirt for that 2010 season, which allowed her to exercise a fifth year of eligibility in 2012.
The injury influenced Schroeder to want to work with athletes in some capacity, helping teach proper nutrition and training.
Schroeder also feels a responsibility to play professionally in the National Pro Fastpitch league despite very little financial security because she wants to give back to the sport she loves.
“What I am about to do is not going to pay the bills,” Schroeder said of playing professionally. “You play for the love of the game and you play to give back, and that’s why I’m playing ““ to give back. I understand how blessed I am to continue on playing, because that injury taught me so much about how you never know when it’s going to be over.”
Both seniors were not supposed to be here. Harrison wasn’t supposed to be at UCLA. Schroeder wasn’t supposed to be at UCLA for five years.
But things changed, and how the two handled those changes is a factor in their success and in their opportunity to continue playing softball.
“I think you always want to play as long as you can,” Inouye-Perez said.
“Being able to continue your career beyond the college stage is always the best thing you can do. Ultimately, to be able to be drafted and have the opportunity to continue to play is a great honor. They represent the best in the sport.”