Besties in high school, Ariana Harris and Bradee Jeffery are going to be competing for rival schools in the same National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics conference.
Don't count on any awkward moments when the two East Union outfielders to face off.
“I see us having a lifelong friendship,” Harris said. “It's going to be fun playing against each other. Knowing her, she's extremely competitive and I can be competitive, too.”
Harris is set to attend and play for University of Saint Katherine in San Marcos, while Jeffery heads to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.
The two have been inseparable since meeting at the start of their freshman year, both on and off campus. Before their senior year was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, they parked next to each other every morning and walked side by side to their first-period classes.
On the field, Harris played in center field for East Union while Jeffery was the left
fielder. Harris typically batted at or near the top of the order with Jeffery a spot or so behind her. They're even travel-ball teammates with West Coast Wolverines.
“What I'm going to miss about playing with Ariana is our game-day song since freshman year, warming up together and looking over and seeing her in the field with me,” Jeffery said. “It's definitely going to be different without her on the field with me, but I'm glad we'll be able to play against each other at the next level.”
Their off-field chemistry translated onto to the field.
“It definitely does (help),” Harris said. “We know each other so well. We know each other's range and arm strength. We know each other like the backs of our hands.”
Both had expanded roles as seniors under longtime East Union head coach Brian Goulart. Last year, the Lancers went 16-10, placed second in the Valley Oak League and made it to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Jeffery batted .267 in 49 plate appearances, while Harris played sparingly as she nursed a knee injury. Harris is of course saddened by having such a limited varsity experience at the high school level, although she was brought up late in 2017 to contribute as a freshman for East Union's Valley Oak League championship team.
Jeffery wanted to see how far the Lancers could go in 2020. She was not discouraged by their 2-3 start, as the losses were to strong programs. With returning talent such as Hawaii-bound right fielder and reigning All-VOL Offensive Player of the Year Chloee Agueda on the team, East Union was hoping it could contend with defending titlist Oakdale.
“Out of all the teams I've been on in high school, this was the best connection we had with all the girls on the team,” Jeffery said. “It's kind of sad we don't get to spend time together anymore.
“For me personally, I thought we had a really good team. We had a good chance of being back ont op this year and maybe beating Oakdale for the VOL title.”
She's heading to a winner at Embry-Riddle, headed by second-year coach Christie Ambrosi. A two-time All-American for UCLA, College World Series champion and Olympic gold medalist, Ambrosi guided the Eagles to their first California Pacific Conference tournament appearance and were favored to compete for the title in 2020. They finished 12-8.
“Coach (Ambrosi) came out to watch me in a tournament and I got to know her after that,” Jeffery said. “I really like her and what she has to offer as a coach and the lessons she can give me. As a former Olympic athlete and World Series champion for UCLA, there's a lot fofr me to learn from.”
A 4.0 student and dual-sport athlete (tennis), Jeffery will major in mechanical engineering. She added that the location of Embry-Riddle was another plus — an aunt lives in Phoenix, and there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Location was also key for Harris in choosing Saint Katherine.
“I wanted to go somewhere in San Diego County,” Harris said. She's studying to become an elementary school teacher. “I'm excited that I'll end up going there. It's the location I want to be at, I love the coaches and the school.”
The Firebirds were also interested in landing Jeffery, but the school does not have her major.
Harris credits her “all-time best friend” for helping out with the recruiting process. They ultimately picked schools knowing it would separate them, but they'll have opportunities to reconnect on the diamond.
“It's nice to have someone I can go to for big life decisions like that,” Harris said, adding, “I can't wait to see where this takes our friendship.”