Note: This story originally appeared in the 9/14 Cal football game program.
By Mara Rudolph
As the final seconds ticked down on the clock, four-year California field hockey starter Rachelle Comeau met what she thought was the end of her collegiate athletic career with disappointment. The 2012-13 season closed with a 6-2 loss to Stanford in the semifinal game of the NorPac Tournament, a far sooner end than now fifth-year senior Rachelle had envisioned leading her 2011 NorPac Champion team to. The end – the losing – just didn’t sit well with her.
“What about soccer? You still have another year of eligibility left in a different sport,” her dad suggested.
“You’re wrong. No way,” Rachelle thought.
She had one more class to take before she earned her media studies degree, and though the idea piqued her interest, Rachelle wasn’t sure a spot on a Top 25 NCAA soccer program was attainable. She met with compliance, then Cal women’s soccer head coach Neil McGuire, who gave her a realistic idea of assessment of what was possible. Despite the fact that Taylor, now a junior, was a two-year starter on the team, Rachelle would have to make her own name for herself during walk-on tryouts.
“At first it was a really far-fetched thought. When you’ve been in a program for four years, your mind is kind of set on being done,” Rachelle said. “But I talked to Taylor, and my family, and it all came together.”
The sisters grew up in a highly competitive, highly athletic family. Parents Robert and Stephanie ran track together at Los Gatos High School, while brother A.J. played rugby at San Jose State and brother Robbie played club lacrosse at Cal.
Though the pair played many of the same sports growing up, including both field hockey and soccer in high school, Rachelle and Taylor found their own interests within sport. After Rachelle went off to Cal on a field hockey scholarship, Taylor dabbled in basketball and her love for soccer deepened. Eventually, Taylor was also recruited to Cal to join McGuire’s squad.
In the two years where Rachelle played field hockey and Taylor played soccer, the sisters showed up to each other’s games to cheer one another on, but neither imagined that they would be sharing a field in collegiate competition. When Rachelle finally made the decision to try out for the women’s soccer team shortly after field hockey season ended, Taylor became her No. 1 supporter and coach.
“The hardest thing was definitely the mental battle – basically starting over from scratch. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it because I hadn’t played in so long, and it was really frustrating trying to get my skills back,” Rachelle said. “I’d get mad at myself for not doing something right, and she was there to calm me down and tell me ‘It’s okay.’”
The duo trained endlessly during the 2012 winter break, starting with the basics. Rachelle had only enjoyed soccer as a way to exercise every once in a while during her four years on the field hockey team, but relearned how to pass and receive a ball with the proper touch. The sisters, along with their brothers and mom, would visit a local indoor soccer gym and play. Taylor incorporated all of the skills she learned in her private training sessions into drills with Rachelle.
“With field hockey, a big difference is the field is a lot smaller and the game moves faster because the field is pretty much carpet. You’re bent over the whole time so it’s a different kind of running, and you’re more flat-footed,” Rachelle said. “At the same time, passing lanes, game management and strategy are all pretty similar.”
Rachelle trained with the team as a walk-on throughout the spring, and finally, she took McGuire’s invitation for her to join the team on their summer trip to Costa Rica as indication that she’d made it.
“I never thought she wasn’t going to make it. She’s athletic enough to be able to compete at any sport, but her skills just needed to catch up,” Taylor said.
The pair spent the rest of the summer training further, playing with a local semi-pro team and even training with Will Kapp, the son of Cal football great Joe Kapp. They returned to Berkeley in the best shapes of their lives with a will to contribute in any way possible.
Taylor has since started every game of the season, and was overjoyed to cheer her sister on as Rachelle entered the lineup in Cal’s 3-0 shutout of San Jose State. And while their personal goals are different – Taylor to do well as a starter and Rachelle to earn some playing time and make the travel squad – they share the same competitive drive in wanting to help the team win a Pac-12 Championship and take Cal deep into the NCAA Tournament. In the meantime, they’re savoring every moment that they can finally share on the field together.
“Like a lot of sisters, Taylor and I are best friends. But being athletes, we definitely connect on a certain level that sometimes sisters really don’t connect on because it’s rare that two sisters can both play sports and be competitive at the same high level. It’s really nice to share the experience together,” Rachelle said.