By Rick Assad
Unless you know Rachel Little really well, you might be surprised if you saw her on the basketball court and the softball field.
“My personality when I’m not playing a sport is very different from when I’m on the court or on the field. When I’m playing sports, I’m very loud. I like to take control and I’m aggressive,” said the Burroughs High senior. “When I’m catching, I have to be able to be loud and take control. I see the whole field and being a leader is important in that position.”
Little, who recently committed to playing softball at Utica University in New York, also plays guard on the basketball team.
“In basketball, the gym can get very loud, so making yourself heard is really important,” she noted. “When I’m not playing a sport, I’m very reserved and I like to keep to myself. I’m not very outgoing and I have a very small circle of friends. You wouldn’t recognize me if you went to one of my games.”
Playing varsity basketball and softball soon-to-be four years and named Scholar-Athlete the last three years, has led Little to being competitive and confident.
“I have an older sister [Jennifer] that graduated from Burroughs in 2014 and played on the softball team for Coach Doug [Nicol],” she said. “In the beginning I always wanted to be my older sister and wanted to do everything she did. I got my competitiveness from that, and it eventually evolved into wanting to beat everybody at everything.”
Jennifer Little was a catcher/first baseman at Burroughs and played for Edinboro University in Pennsylvania at the Division II level.
Little admits that toiling at two sports takes a toll, but in the end it’s worth it.
“The hardest thing about playing two sports is definitely time management and keeping up with my schedule. In the pre-season, I have practice for both high school teams and my travel team, along with other lessons such as hitting or catching,” she explained. “My schedule is very packed, and I have homework to stay on top of as well. It’s very easy for me to get stressed out or overwhelmed, but since it’s my senior year, I feel I’ve developed a good system and routine over the years.”
Being a two-sport athlete has its benefits and has helped her grow as a person and as an athlete.
“Originally when I started playing basketball in fourth grade, the main purpose was to use the conditioning to keep me in shape for softball. I learned to love it and that’s why I continued playing,” said Little, who has scored 237 points over her hoop career. “I would definitely say basketball helps me with softball in that sense. Softball, I would say, helps me with basketball because of the competitiveness I’ve adopted from playing softball at a young age. That transferred over to basketball as well and gives me a strong desire to win.”
When you look at practice time and the game itself, the final results are what keeps the athlete on track.
“I do enjoy the process very much. I’m very passionate about both sports and I believe the work that it takes to be successful in both sports is worth it,” Little noted. “I enjoy the conditioning and weightlifting days, the hitting days, the individual practices that take place for basketball, and even getting better during games. I enjoy putting in the work because I love the outcome.”
Burroughs basketball coach Vicky Oganyan had been around Little since her freshman campaign.
“Rachel is a great athlete who has brought toughness and a strong work ethic to our program,” she said. “She has improved as a basketball player every year and was an honorable mention for us last year. It’s a pleasure watching her compete and see her growth as an athlete and as a person.”
Choosing between softball, where Little was named honorable mention as a sophomore and a Pacific League second team member as a junior, and basketball, isn’t easy.
Little, who batted .380 with 41 hits, a .396 on-base percentage and a 1.000 fielding percentage as a junior, does have a sport she’s fonder of.
“My favorite between the two sports is definitely softball,” she said. “I’ve dedicated my whole life to it and it’s my outlet for a lot of stress in other aspects of my life. Softball comes way easier for me, and it always has.”
As a catcher, the position requires a strong field general, which Little fits perfectly, according to Nicol.
“Rachel is incredible, and it’s been an honor to coach her. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever had the pleasure to coach. She takes pride in the little details that make you a better player. She can really do it all. She is a great hitter who can hit for power and can really hit the gaps. Defensively, there are no better catchers in the entire area than her,” he said. “She is strong in all aspects…. blocking the plate, framing, great arm, receives well. However, what sets her apart is her smarts and knowledge of the game.”
Nicol added: “I discovered that early and started letting her call games in her sophomore year. She excelled so much that we never stopped,” he said. “She works hard at developing relationships with our pitchers and the ability to combine all of that and still be successful is what really makes her a dynamic player.”
Overcoming obstacles are part of life and it’s also a part of athletics.
“When I get in a slump, it’s really challenging for me. I’m very hard on myself and I am definitely my own worst enemy when I make a mistake,” Little pointed out. “But I’ve started to learn that it’s normal and I will get out of it. I record all of my at-bats. I record my shots in basketball, and I record reps outside of games. When I’m in a slump, I like to compare videos from when I was doing really well to my reps from my slump. It helps me find the problem and fix it. Watching the videos of me doing really well also reminds me that I am talented. So, when I’m being hard on myself, it’s a nice little reminder of what I can do.”
Playing softball and hoops has opened so many wonderful doors.
“I like the two sports because of the many opportunities it’s given me that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. I’ve built friendships and relationships that I value more than anything and I’m extremely thankful for them,” Little said. “Sports are also giving me the opportunity to help me get into college. I also enjoy getting better at the two sports and being able to notice a difference. I look back on old videos of me playing and I see how much progress I’ve made in such little time, and it makes me feel really good about all the work I’ve put in over the years.”
Knowing that a game is going to be played makes that day special for Little.
“I enjoy game days a lot. I have a lot of adrenaline throughout the whole day. For school sports, we wear jerseys or tracksuits or team gear to school and it’s fun having people ask you about the game all day,” she said. “I have different routines and superstitions for each of the sports and I dedicate a lot of time to them. Going to games and seeing people in the stands is such a nice feeling and it gives me motivation to work harder.”
Being able to play softball and basketball means a great deal to Little and is something she doesn’t take for granted.
“The best part of being a student-athlete is the opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to have. I get to travel all over the country for softball, and the same with basketball,” she said. “I’ve met some pretty cool athletes and made a lot of lifelong friends. The coaches I’ve met have also impacted my life in ways I never would have imagined.”
Little went on: “I still keep in contact with coaches from park and recreation sports and still love seeing them around Burbank. The life of a student-athlete has also taught me how to be organized and independent,” she said. “It’s a tough schedule and it takes a lot of work to adapt to. It’s taught me how to follow a schedule, set priorities, and manage my time. I’m very thankful for everything that sports have given me.”
Little looks forward to her next phase.
“I decided to commit to Utica because I loved the team atmosphere and the campus was beautiful,” she said. “The school has an amazing sports management program that will be amazing for my dream of coaching one day.”
Nicol knows a player like Little doesn’t come around every day and is excited for her next challenge.
“Rachel and I have a great player-coach relationship and it’s really built on trust. I trust her with everything. I trust her to be a good example and teach the younger players the Burroughs Culture and what we expect from them,” he said. “I trust her to call a good game and work positively with the pitcher she is calling games for. I trust her to hold herself accountable and to push herself to be the best player, student and person she can be…. both on the softball field and in the classroom.”
Nicol continued: “In four years, she has never let me, the coaches, or her teammates down. We know when things get tough, we can trust her to be there and lead us,” he added. “I am going to miss her so much when she graduates and goes to Utica University, but I am excited to watch her grow and succeed at the next level. She is a special person who has meant so much to this program, but also to me personally.”