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‘[We] wouldn’t trade it for the world’: The Harper sisters and their journey to Gophers soccer

In their two seasons together at North Branch High School, the Harper sisters combined for 104 goals and 70 assists in the 34 matches when they both played.
Image by Courtesy of Gopher Athletics
Khyah and Sadie Harper pose for a picture in their Gophers soccer uniforms.

When Sadie Harper arrived on Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium (ELR) field over a decade ago as a ball girl, she knew she was one step closer to her lifelong dream: playing on the University of Minnesota’s soccer team.

At the match, Sadie was the only one on her team who wore a full soccer uniform: cleats, shin guards, and high socks. Sadie thought she would get to play soccer on her dream school’s field.

“Ever since that day, I’ve always wanted to be a Gopher and represent our home state,” Sadie said.

Sadie’s parents, Brett and Desiree Harper, said they felt terrible because they knew she would just be at the match to be a ball girl and watch.

“That was her first real division one game that she went to,” Brett said. “To be on that sideline and to see the crowd, that was something that she will never forget. That motivated her to say, ‘wow, I want to be like them someday.’”

However, Sadie was not alone in wanting to play collegiate soccer for the University of Minnesota. Her younger sister, Khyah, also wanted to play for the Gophers’ soccer team. Now, their dreams are a reality they share.

Sadie and Khyah officially took the field for the first time together as Gophers in a home match at ELR against Baylor University on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, which the two say is a dream come true. 

In their first collegiate soccer season together, Sadie and Khyah each scored one goal. They helped the Gophers to an undefeated 4-0-3 non-conference schedule record for only the second time in program history, the first coming in 2008.

“The Pink Headband Girls”

Along with their younger brothers, Maverick and Krewz, Sadie and Khyah grew up in Lino Lakes, Minn. and they tried many different sports growing up. Beyond soccer, the Harper sisters were also involved in softball and basketball while running track and dancing competitively. However, their passion for soccer outweighed everything else. 

“As little kids, they were spunky and always active, which we loved,” Brett said. “[For] some parents, that drives them crazy. But for us, Desiree and I looked at each other, and we would laugh at some of the stuff they did. We loved it.”

Even the cold weather would not stop them from practicing. The ‘no-balls in the house’ rule did not apply.

“In the winter, when they couldn’t go outside to play soccer, we would flip the couches in the basement, tipping them upside down, and they would use those as nets,” Desiree said. “They would run down the hallway, we chucked the ball at them, and they would try and get a header.”

The Harper sisters first started playing together on Sadie’s U-11 soccer team. Khyah played up two grade levels, allowing her to play alongside Sadie.

Sadie (left) and Khyah (right) as children. (Courtesy of Brett Harper)

Sadie and Khyah developed a connection on the field that was hard to stop. They became known as ‘the pink headband girls’ as they wore matching headbands during every match they played.

The pink headband girls created work for opposing defenders because defending them one-on-one was hard to stop, but doubling up one of them left the other one open with space.

“Me and Khyah have always had great chemistry,” Sadie said. “We’ve played super well together ever since we started playing with each other. We’ve always worked together super well. It’s just so fun playing with her.”

The Harper sisters are each other’s harshest critics. They act as each other’s motivators and hold one another accountable.

“They hold each other to such a high standard,” Desiree said. “They are on each other’s case. People are like, ‘Oh my gosh, are they fighting?’ It’s like ‘No, that’s just them, they just hold each other to such a high standard.’”

‘I’ll always remember it’

During their first high school soccer season together in 2016 at North Branch High School, Sadie and Khyah led North Branch to its first state tournament appearance in program history.

In the 2016 section final, the dynamic duo did what they do best: combining the match-winning goal in overtime as Khyah scored and Sadie had the assist.

“There was like 20 seconds left and she sent me a through ball,” Khyah said. “I went in on a breakaway, [my shot] hit the post and went in the net. We ended up winning with like five seconds left. That was probably our best goal together. I’ll always remember it.”

In their two seasons together at North Branch before transferring to Centennial High School, the Harper sisters combined for 104 goals and 70 assists in the 34 matches when they both played.

‘It was the kids’ choice’

Brett and Desiree said North Branch had a revolving door for administration and soccer coaches, mentioning the school did not have a lot of stability for Sadie and Khyah academically and athletically. As a result, the Harper family started to look into the possibility of transferring to Centennial High School. 

Desiree and her nine siblings graduated from Centennial –– their grandma is in the school’s hall of fame. They also had a lot of family friends at the high school because Sadie and Khyah played club soccer with many girls on the team.

Sadie (left) and Khyah (right) in their Centennial Soccer uniforms. (Courtesy of Brett Harper)

So, the Harpers began to have conversations with their friends and the athletic director about Centennial’s academics and soccer program. 

After their conversations, Brett and Desiree felt Centennial was a better fit for their children academically and athletically. They felt there was a lot of stability and it would be a better opportunity to prepare their children for college.

“I just felt like our kids needed more,” Desiree said. “They are little sponges, both academically and athletically. They are very much sports-driven. They want to be where they feel that they are being challenged to their level.”

When it came time to decide on the transfer from North Branch to Centennial High School in 2018, Brett and Desiree left it entirely up to their children and provided them with the resources they needed to make an educated decision. However, they were not going to force them to transfer.

“It was the kids’ choice,” Brett said. “We sat them down and said, ‘Hey, here are your options.’ We left it up to them. It’s ultimately their decision.”

Sadie and Khyah ultimately decided to transfer to Centennial High School. In their first (and last) high school soccer season playing together, Sadie and Khyah combined for 26 goals and 24 assists in the 17 matches when they both played.

As Sadie graduated and began playing collegiate soccer for the Gophers, Khyah played two more seasons at Centennial without her older sister by her side. However, she continued to find herself on the scoresheet even without her dynamic duo, tallying 52 goals and 23 assists in 34 matches. 

Khyah also collected many notable awards for her performances during her senior year. She was named the 2020-21 Minnesota Girls Soccer Gatorade Player of the Year, the 2020 Pioneer Press East Metro Girls Soccer Player of the Year, and the 2020 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.

‘It was emotional at times’

The Harper sisters committed to playing soccer for the Gophers simultaneously as Khyah committed before her freshman year of high school, while Sadie committed before her junior year. However, the recruiting process to get there was not easy.

“The whole recruiting process was stressful [for Sadie],” Desiree said. “There wasn’t just one offer on the table, there were multiple, and Sadie was the spokesperson. She had a huge responsibility on her shoulders. It was emotional at times. I couldn’t be more proud of how she handled herself.”

Sadie had to make big decisions before she had her driver’s license. She handled everything throughout the recruiting process for herself and Khyah, answering phone calls, meeting with coaches, etc. 

“Ultimately, they ended up right where they dreamed of playing,” Brett said. “They wanted to be Gophers and they wanted to be close to home. I can tell you, as parents, we are proud to show up there [ELR]. To see them both in Gophers uniforms is awesome.”

Achieving their dreams

After Khyah graduated from Centennial High School in spring 2021, she jumped into collegiate soccer with Sadie and the Gophers. The sisters have reunited again as they wear opposite jersey numbers, 43 and 34, inspired by their dad.

“I chose 43 because that was my dad’s college football number,” Sadie said. “I just inherited it. Since she’s [Khyah] younger, she just did the opposite and we’ve done that ever since we were kids.”

Throughout high school, Sadie and Khyah sacrificed much of their social lives to succeed on the soccer field. They would not go to parties and missed out on spending time with friends because of soccer training. Now, seeing the results of all their hard work, Desiree says she could not be more proud of them.

Sadie (left) and Khyah (right). (Courtesy of Brett Harper)

The Harper sisters often make surprise appearances at their brothers’ sporting events and visit home whenever they have free time in their busy soccer schedules.

“As parents, that makes you feel so good that family is still so important [to them], and it always will be,” Desiree said. “That’s another reason why they wanted to stay close to home because they wanted family to be able to come watch. To me, that’s more than a parent could ask for.

Every day, the Harper sisters continue to live out their childhood dreams playing for the Gophers, but they say not a single day goes by that they take it for granted. 

“Getting the opportunity to play here, we are super grateful,” Khyah said. “ [We] wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

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