In a world where the specialization of athletes has run rampant, Hereford’s Rachel Saunders has been a standout in a trio of sports.
She played soccer in the fall, before lacing up her gym shoes for basketball in the winter. She ended her year playing lacrosse in the spring.
Saunders, the North County News Female co-Athlete of the Year with Emily Konkus, was a varsity athlete in all three sports for all four seasons of her high school career.
As it is with many multi-sport athletes, it wasn’t easy to balance school and athletics.
“Between school and sports, I’ve never rode the bus because I have practice after school literally every day,” Saunders said. “So, I have to really work on time management for homework and everything because it’s not like I didn¹t take hard classes. I took AP [classes] every year. I had to juggle my homework with practice and games when they went really late.”
Playing multiple sports helped her because there were some similarities.
“It taught me a lot of good athletic skills that I got to use in many different sports. Like basketball, it’s moving your feet and that would help me with lacrosse and soccer,” she said. “Your build helps you in basketball because it teaches me how to take charges, which I ended up doing in lacrosse as well.”
Saunders played forward on the soccer team for head coach Brad Duvall for four consecutive seasons.
She claimed her stake to greatness when she notched a few goals down the stretch, including one during the 2-1 state semifinal loss to River Hill.
Duvall has known Saunders since before high school and he feels that her leadership has shone through in a several ways.
“She has four girls in her class that were freshmen varsity players that played all four years,” Duvall said. “She was definitely one of the leaders of that group. Rachel is not afraid to rock the boat. She’ll tell you what she’s thinking, which is a great quality in a leader. She’s fair in all of those things, but she commands the respect in her teammates.
“So in doing that, they follow her lead. When it comes down to crunch time...in those big-time matches, her confidence purveyed through the rest of the team.”
Having that experience in major situations has allowed her to succeed in other sports as well.
It was one particular basketball play that she made against Dulaney in January where Saunders had the wherewithal to dish a high pass to teammate Isabella Peterson for a second-half basket that led to Hereford’s 10th consecutive victory.
Saunders saw basketball as the “other sport” that she played.
However, it was one of the three that she saw plenty of playing time and was a starter on a team that beat Gwynn Park, 54-52, in overtime, to win the regional title.
That experience in the sport has not been lost on Saunders.
“Basketball is different for us,” Saunders said. “Half of our team, like our starters, for [only] two people, it’s their first sport and only sport. For me, and others who play other sports, it was a different feeling because we never thought that we would make it that far. We just really wanted it and we wanted to give it our all and it was so close that we were just fighting with whatever we had left to go all of the way.”
Playing defense for the lacrosse team, Saunders helped Hereford to the Class 2A state final, where the team fell to South Carroll, 10-9, in overtime, But she felt that her team gave everything that they had.
It was also the sport that she saw the most amount of success during her time at Hereford, including winning county and regional titles and going undefeated until the state final.
The biggest takeaway from her lacrosse career is that she had fun.
“Our team chemistry is what really brought us together and what really made us go that far and we could keep it together,” said Saunders. “You’ve got to take away all of the experiences that you can, the good and the bad. You have to learn from your mistakes, but keep going when you do something good. Us beating Glenelg [9-8 in the state semifinal], that was our goal and we did it. It just sucks that we couldn¹t finish it out, but we¹re very happy to be 17-1 on the entire season.”
Saunders signed her national letter of intent to attend Virginia Tech University, where she will play lacrosse for head coach John Sung.
“When it comes to lacrosse, my coaches, John Sung and Amanda Shimp, they all have this hunger that I feel that I’ve had since I was a freshman,” Saunders said. “They have wanted to win a national championship. They came and they were aspiring to be in the top-20, then the top-10 eventually and win a national championship. That’s what I want. It just seems that they are as driven as I am and they want exactly what I want as well.”