Jessie Harper said she didn’t consider herself to be a power hitter when she first joined the Arizona Wildcats.
The way she tells it, she viewed herself as a contact hitter whose biggest worry was whether or not she could stretch singles into doubles.
“I’m not very fast,” she laughed.
Such an outlook sounds crazy now because the junior shortstop has a chance to be the best home-run hitter the program has ever seen, which speaks volumes given the type of players that have called Hillenbrand Stadium home over the years.
In three seasons with the Wildcats, Harper has gone deep 62 times and counting. That means she is a reasonable 30 homers shy of Katiyana Mauga’s all-time record, with dozens of games still left to be played.
“I know it’s amazing accomplishment to be up there with some of the greats like Kati,” Harper said. “Watching her my freshman year, it seemed like everything was a home run, even if she hit it with one hand. But I’m not really taking too much out of it. I’m just trying to have a competitive at-bat.”
To have any chance of shattering Arizona’s home-run record (or any record for that matter), one has to be a consistent, dominant force.
For instance, Mauga, whose 92 career homers are the second-most in NCAA history, is the only player to ever hit 20 or more homers in four seasons.
Harper isn’t far from that level and she is only getting better. She hit 19 homers as a freshman, 18 as a sophomore, and now has an NCAA-best 25 homers as a junior to go along with a career-high .342 batting average.
“She’s matured a lot,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea. “Jessie’s a very good player, very aggressive player. Sometimes her aggressiveness works to her disadvantage, but I would rather have that than someone who is too laid back.”
Proof of Harper’s maturation can be seen in her walk totals. She only walked nine times as a freshman and sophomore but has drawn 17 free passes as a junior, learning that it’s OK to be selective and pass the bat to the next hitter.
“I’m a perfectionist, so nothing will ever amaze me at any point in time, but I just hope that as we continue on, I become more mentally sound,” she said. “That’s where I kind of struggle. I put so much pressure on myself. But just relying on my teammates, that’s what I’ve really learned to do, knowing that I have a solid nine that’s going to go to war behind me in that lineup. So if I don’t get this hit, I know Dejah (Mulipola) or Malia (Martinez) or whoever’s right behind me is going to do it.”
Harper might be bashful about her ability, but Candrea always thought she would be a dangerous power hitter at the collegiate level because of her bat speed, hand-eye coordination and impressive past.
The Stevenson Ranch, California native was a PGF All-American coming out of high school, the equivalent of a McDonald’s All-American in basketball.
“I watched her in travel ball and she was hitting home runs at that moment,” Candrea said. “The field doesn’t change when they move up to this level, it’s just a matter of if they can catch up to good pitching.”
Harper still has the 2019 postseason and her entire senior season to add to her growing home run total. She is happy how her UA career has unfolded so far, but her ultimate goal is to lead the Wildcats back to the Women’s College World Series.
If she happens to break Mauga’s record on the way there, so be it.
“I don’t really care about the home runs in all honesty,” Harper said. “Just being competitive up at bat is what I strive for. But yeah, I’ll take the home runs as long as they help our team win.”