By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Cadence Lee has more decisions to make than most high school athletes, especially when it comes to practice. Does she wear the wrestling headgear today or is it time for the soccer cleats?
Decisions. Decisions. That's what happens when you play two sports in the same season.
Lee, a sophomore at Gunn High, can be found in the wrestling room one day and the soccer field the next. She is an outstanding grappler at 106 pounds and a solid soccer reserve for the Gunn girls' team.
Being a two-sport athlete is one thing, but doing it in the same season is another. That makes Lee a rarity in the already busy life of a high school student.
Cory Hatton of Sacred Heart Prep is believed to be the last local high school athlete to play two sports in the same season. He was a placekicker on the Gators' football team in 2005 in addition to playing soccer, which in those days was played in the fall before moving to the winter a few years later.
While soccer and football are similar, wrestling and soccer are not.
"It is rare, but Cadence is rare," said Gunn wrestling coach Chris Horpel. "The only other time I heard of this (combination) was with Jason Welch, now wrestling for Northwestern. He was the goalkeeper on his championship soccer team (at Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek in 2008) and he also won three California state titles (in wrestling). He, too, was very impressive."
Welch was the nation's top high school wrestler in 2008. Lee, of course, is not in that category but she can hold her own on the wrestling mat.
At the Central Coast Section Girls' Wrestling Championships last season, Lee won four matches by pin to win her 16-person division despite being unseeded. She advanced to the inaugural CIF State Championships for girls and finished seventh. During the regular season, she was 5-0 in dual matches (mostly against boys) while helping the Titans win the SCVAL El Camino Division dual-meet title.
In a dual match against Palo Alto last week, Lee dominated her male opponent and won, 16-1. On Saturday, she finished second in the 106-pound division at the Bianchini Memorial Tournament in Cupertino. On Monday, she scored a goal in the Titans' 3-1 nonleague soccer win over Menlo
"The girls' soccer team needed a player and Cadence was game to try both," Horpel said.
"Wrestling remains her priority, but she is attempting to do both."
Lee joined the Gunn soccer team shortly before winter break (in December).
"Coach Damian (Cohen) knew I played soccer since I tried out last year," said Lee, a former competitive club soccer player. "And, since the team was lacking players, he offered me the opportunity to participate. I'm extremely glad to be playing both sports."
Cadence sat down with her parents before finally deciding.
"My husband and I discussed the pros and cons with Cadence, but ultimately let her make the decision," said her mother, Emmie. "I don't think there was ever any doubt in her mind, but we wanted her to be aware that taking on two simultaneous varsity sports would not only be physically taxing, and carry with it an increased risk of injury, but would require her to be more efficient with her time in terms of schoolwork and music -- she plays the oboe in the Gunn wind ensemble."
"The greatest challenge of participating in both wrestling and soccer is making sure I am able to prioritize and juggle all my other activities without becoming overloaded or stressed," said Lee. "Both my coaches and I have agreed that whenever two event conflict, wrestling will always take the top priority."
Cohen said he's fine with that, especially in such an unusual situation.
"I don't think there are that many highly skilled wrestlers that are also excellent soccer players," Cohen said. "The trade-off is that she is first and foremost a wrestler. We are able to have her for a couple of practices and a handful of games, when such works with the wrestling schedule. In other words, she is a part-time soccer player and full-time wrestler.
"As a wrestler, she is scrappy. She hustles and will give everything she has. (In soccer) she has good vision, one-touch play, and isn't afraid to hold the ball, either."
When Lee is playing soccer, she fills in at either the midfield or forward spots. In wrestling, she's the team's No. 1 entrant at 106 pounds.
While wrestling takes place on Thursday (dual matches) and some Saturdays (tournaments) and soccer is Wednesday and Friday in most cases, the two sports do overlap.
"She cannot compete in all of our matches because she needs to meet weight heading into a wrestling meet," Cohen said. "Thus, timing is a factor."
Gunn hosted Palo Alto on Wednesday night in soccer, but Lee di not play because the Titans' wrestling team hosted Cupertino on Thursday night. Friday is free for soccer (at Los Altos) because there is no wrestling tournament on Saturday.
"Yes, unfortunately I will have to miss all the soccer games that occur directly before a wrestling event," Lee said. "The running and conditioning in a soccer game is good for keeping my weight down, but I believe that it definitely tires out my leg muscles more than is preferred."
And, for anyone who has ever wrestled, leg strength is crucial.
Aside from one sport tiring for the other, Lee believes the two sports are very compatible for staying in shape.
"Soccer and wrestling are excellent cross-training for each other," she said. "Soccer requires plenty of running and general fitness while wrestling requires adequate strength and coordination, and I think that each sport prepares me for the other.
"I think it would be wonderful if I could participate in both sports in my next couple of years, if things work out," she said. "But, it all depends on if I am needed on the soccer team."
The Gunn girls' soccer team has 16 players listed on the current roster. Palo Alto and Menlo-Atherton, for example, each have 22. Even Castilleja, the smallest school in the area in terms of enrollment, has 18 players. Once the Titans have enough able bodies, Lee's two-sport status could vanish.
Thus, Lee will continue to juggle her sports and schedules as long as possible -- even though friends can't believe what she's doing.
Said Lee: "Lots of people are amazed and almost everyone asks ' How do you do it?' But, I know that my family is proud of me for attempting to work things out and compete in both my favorite sports."