There are times when Hawley Harrer ponders the parallel universe in which she hung up her sneakers in exchange for a swim cap.
Her curiosity is valid. After all, the Sisters High senior has appeared at the Class 4A/3A/2A/1A swimming state championships each of the past three seasons. Two Outlaws program records for relays include her name.
What if, Harrer wonders, she had been swimming her whole life, since her days as a toddler in Honolulu? What if instead of “goofing around,” as Harrer puts it, on a beach volleyball court in Hawaii, she had begun her year-round commitment to swimming rather than picking up the sport as a high school freshman? Would there be state championship trophies to her name? Perhaps a few state records? Would she be heading to an NCAA Division I program as a swimmer rather than as a setter?
“I’d be completely different,” Harrer says. “I’d be club swimming every day, twice a day. … It’d be a different lifestyle.”
This is when Harrer changes direction. If she had been a committed swimmer all these years, using early mornings and late afternoons and evenings to train, she believes there is a high probability she would eventually burn out on the sport. Since her first season swimming for the Outlaws, Harrer has held in high regard those swimmers who dedicate many hours almost daily to their craft. Yet Harrer, a 6-foot-2 UCLA-bound setter and outside hitter, is grateful she found volleyball first.
“It’s insane — work ethic and stamina,” Harrer says of swimming. “I totally have more respect for swimmers. I always didn’t think it was that hard and that I could do it, but it’s just completely different cardio. It’s working completely different muscles of the body. … It’s a lifestyle for some people.”
Adds Harrer with a chuckle: “I’d say I’m thankful for playing volleyball overall, yeah.”
It is almost as if Harrer was destined to become a volleyball star. Her mom, Janice, played at UC Irvine and is in the California Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame; Hawley’s father, Tom, played indoor volleyball at the University of Hawaii; and both played professional beach volleyball. As a youngster in Honolulu, where she was born, Hawley would head to the sand courts with her mom and goof off, as kids do. Harrer concedes that she was not absorbed in the sport at the time, but that was the seed that was planted.
After the Harrers, including Hawley’s older brother Justin and older sister Hannah, moved to Sisters when Hawley was 7 years old, she began playing club volleyball. Since fourth grade, she has played with elite programs such as Central Oregon’s Rimrock Volleyball Club and Beaverton-based Athena Volleyball Academy. At the Harrers’ home there is a sand court, a Valentine’s Day gift some years ago from Tom to Janice, on which Hawley can run through drills or continue “goofing around.”
Hawley lives and breathes volleyball, and her work ethic and skill — as well as a glowing resume that includes three times being named Sky-Em League player of the year and twice being voted Class 4A player of the year — resulted in a scholarship offer from UCLA.
The senior, however, is unlike most volleyball players of her caliber. Harrer does still play year-round, and she fills free time not with weightlifting or routine exercising, but rather with a sport that she believes keeps her in peak physical condition.
“In general, it’s hard for girls to have upper-body strength,” says Harrer, who helped lead the Outlaws to three volleyball state championships in four years. “So (swimming) brought some upper-body strength and cardio. It’s a way for me to work out when I’m sore that isn’t running or weight-bearing. … When I come back from a (volleyball) tournament, I’ll swim on Sunday, and it’s an easy workout to work out my soreness. It’s really beneficial that way.”
Harrer decided to get into competitive swimming as she entered high school. She has long enjoyed being versatile, always having a sport, along with volleyball, in which to compete during the winter and spring months. She wondered about taking up basketball, but she feared injuring her knees. Swimming, Harrer says now, was a “cautious and strategic” choice — even if she did not understand the physical challenge the sport would present.
“After her freshman volleyball season, she asked about keeping in shape and being set up with a personal trainer,” recalls Tom Harrer, a physical therapist. “I told her I couldn’t spend enough money or enough time to get her in as good of shape as swimming gets you into.”
“We’ve always encouraged that with all of our kids,” Janice Harrer says of Hawley — who also competes in tennis and track and field for Sisters — participating in other sports, “to diversify and learn different sports and enjoy them while keeping your mind fresh versus being just a one-sport athlete. It helps mentally, emotionally and physically, giving the body some rest, not overusing one muscle group with one sport.”
Hawley admits that swimming is a different kind of animal in terms of commitment and conditioning. That first year with the swim team, she says, was exhausting. Still, Harrer powered through her freshman season, which was capped by a fifth-place finish at state in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
“She’s always in great shape, because she does volleyball year-round, but swimming is obviously a different thing,” says Sisters swim coach Bryn Singleton. “The fact that she comes in not in swimming shape and kind of picks it up so quickly really speaks to how hard she works. She just has this great, fun-loving personality, so you don’t always see how serious of an athlete she is. But she is. She takes volleyball and swimming really seriously and gives such a great effort. I think it’s amazing she can do as well as she does within just those three months of (the swim season), when she doesn’t swim the rest of the year.”
As a sophomore, Harrer took fifth at state in the 100 free and sixth in the 50 free while also competing in the 200 freestyle relay. At districts last year, she swam the freestyle leg of the 200 medley relay and was part of the 200 free relay that set school-record times. At state, she placed sixth in the 100 freestyle and helped the 200- and 400-yard free relays to second-place finishes.
“She’s built to be a good swimmer,” Janice Harrer says. “Her length, her limbs, those are an advantage when you’re in the pool.”
Though only a seasonal swimmer, Hawley has proved she is among the top freestyle racers in Class 4A/3A/2A/1A — an eye-opening thought, considering she uses swimming more as a training tool for volleyball, an approach that Harrer says has given her a leg up on volleyball players who rely on weight training and running to stay in shape. Swimming, she says, is her substitute. And while she believes she would still be a top-tier volleyball talent without the sport, swimming — combined with tennis and track — has served to amplify her skills.
Harrer says UCLA coaches have never deterred her from competing in other sports, instead encouraging her to remain diverse, as each sport helps develop different skill sets that have helped mold her into a more athletic volleyball player.
Yet while Harrer is bound for the Bruins, she still wonders sometimes what life would be like had she been a swimmer first. And she is not alone.
“She’s a great all-around athlete and a great swimmer,” Singleton says. “I think that if she hadn’t done volleyball throughout her life and just swam, she’d probably have a scholarship for swimming.”
“It’s a regimen that’s so different than volleyball,” Janice Harrer says. “Physically, it is so much more demanding, and she kind of thrives on it. The unfortunate thing is I don’t think she’ll ever see what she could do (as a swimmer) because of the limited time she spends with two months of swimming.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org .