ASU softball series with UA heavily anticipated for the Harper family

MaKenna Harper plays against her older sister Jessie Harper for the first time

Danielle Harper has waited for this moment.

It's a family affair at the ASU versus UA softball series this weekend. At the newly remodeled Rita Hillenbrand Stadium, Danielle Harper has both of her daughters on the same field, competing in the intense rivalry matchup.

When she sits in the stands, she's not alone. There is a section filled with other Harper family members and friends to watch junior infielder Jessie Harper on the Wildcats and, now, freshman outfielder MaKenna Harper on the Sun Devils. 

Ever since MaKenna committed to ASU in high school in Stevenson Ranch, California, and Jessie committed to UA the previous year, this matchup has been circled in the Harper household.

“I am excited to have all my family there and to share this moment with her,” Jessie said.

Although Jessie initially was surprised that MaKenna decided to go to ASU, she wasn’t shocked her sister didn’t join her in Tucson. Jessie said she knew that MaKenna would want to go somewhere where she could crave a path and create her identity. 

She was happy MaKenna went to ASU, she said, because they would be close and also have this special opportunity to compete against one another. MaKenna said she believed this was how it was meant to be.

Jessie admitted that she was tough on MaKenna growing up when they trained, saying she had an intense coaching mentality with her. MaKenna specifically mentioned how tough Jessie was on her in high school and when she would return from Tucson, saying her sister is die-hard everything softball.

“She eats, breathes and lives softball,” MaKenna said. "Every winter break we would be out on the field at 7 a.m., and if I would miss a ball in the outfield, she would be on me like, ‘You gotta be better. You gotta do this. You gotta do that.’ We also played two years of high school softball together. It was miserable. (It was all) out of love, but you don’t want to hear it from your sister. She definitely made me a better player, though, so I appreciate all the tough love.”

As sisters, MaKenna and Jessie Harper have a close bond, but through the competitive nature they share, there is also certainly a sisterly rivalry. This started early and has only continued.

When ASU played against UA last season, MaKenna watched from home as her sister hit the game-winning RBIs in the eighth inning of game three. 

Although she wasn’t at ASU yet, MaKenna was still frustrated the Sun Devils lost, especially when her sister directly caused it. Immediately after the game, MaKenna sent her sister a text.

“She basically texted me, ‘I love you, but I wish you didn’t do that. I wish you would have struck out,’” Jessie said.

MaKenna acknowledged that Jessie throws a little shade, as well. She said it usually comes on social media posts, where Jessie sometimes comments "Bear Down" and "Forks Down."

Some more friendly trash talk and side-eyes from the dugout are be expected this weekend. Jessie said when she records a hit, she might send a wink toward her sister, and MaKenna said she will definitely do something for fun.

“I am going to try to distract her as much as possible,” MaKenna said.

Any duel in the desert softball series has significance, but this season as No. 17 ASU takes on No. 11 UA, there are multiple storylines to follow including the in-state rivalry, the battle between the best home-run hitting teams in the nation and the Harper family tie-in.

Jessie has solidified her spot as a star with the Wildcats since her freshman season, and she currently has second-most home runs in the nation with 17. 

MaKenna said her sister is the hardest working person she knows, she deserves every accomplishment and is a softball great. 

She said she hopes Jessie continues her stellar play — “Not against us, though, but against everyone else,” MaKenna said. 

With seniors Morgan Howe, Skylar McCarty and junior Kindra Hackbarth holding down the outfield, MaKenna serves primarily as a pinch runner this season. However, she and Jessie agree that after this learning year, MaKenna will make strides.

“This is just the start for her, and she will continue to grow as a person and a player at ASU,” Jessie said.

In Tucson, it shouldn’t be difficult to spot the Harper section. Aside from the section cheering for both ASU and UA, everyone will likely have on the same special shirt that was given as a Christmas gift to the family.

Danielle Harper had customized shirts made for the softball season and, especially, for these matchups — a gray T-shirt, which has H-A-R-P-E-R spelled across the chest with the ‘A’ as the Arizona block ‘A’ and the ‘E’ as a sideways pitchfork.

One of the shirt's sleeves has a "19" for Jessie’s jersey number and the other sleeve will have a "55" for MaKenna's jersey number.

“It may be a little embarrassing,” MaKenna said.

Although this series has family significance, Jessie said ultimately ASU is still ASU, and her team wants to win every time. MaKenna echoed her sister, saying she really wants ASU to win. However, Jessie might have the last laugh this season as UA (26-7, 8-0 Pac-12) had 8-0 run-rule wins against ASU (25-10, 5-3 Pac-12) in the first two matchups.

For Danielle Harper and the Harper family in attendance, though, they really can’t lose with MaKenna and Jessie playing against one another on the same field.

“The UA fans are very loyal,” Danielle said. “So, it is going to be a little weird clapping (for ASU), but I think that they are all going to understand. I hope.”


Reach the reporter at nahiatt@asu.edu or follow @NATE_HIATT on Twitter.

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