Hailey Clifford shared nearly every experience in her life with her twin sister, Hannah Clifford, but there was one which she could not.
When Hailey suffered a devastating injury to her right knee – including a torn ACL and meniscus – during a game early in her sophomore year of high school soccer at South Salem, she had to undergo surgery and a painful rehabilitation.
The injury happened at a critical time in the cycle of college recruiting, meaning Hailey Clifford wouldn’t be able to play in front of college coaches.
It was at the same time Hannah was lighting up the high school and club soccer world – and attracting lots of attention from college coaches – by scoring a ridiculous number of goals.
The twins had long held the dream of playing college soccer together, but Hailey didn’t want to hold her sister back from a big opportunity.
“And so as she’s getting recruited, I was just trying to keep interested, seeing if the schools that were talking to her were somewhere I would like to go to,” said Hailey, a defender.
“With Arizona, it just ended up being such a perfect thing for us. They just had so much faith in us, even though I was injured, and it’s where we can go together so it worked out perfectly.”
On Wednesday, each of the Clifford twins signed their own National Letters of Intent to play soccer at the University of Arizona on scholarship in a ceremony in South Salem’s Little Theater.
When the Arizona coaches offered both of the twins scholarships to play college soccer, they could not see Hailey play.
“Us going to school together was really important to us, and so they really trusted what our coaches had to say about her and now that they see her play now that she’s back, they’re like really stoked to see her play and see that it’s going to be a good experience for them for us to be there,” said Hannah, a forward.
While Hailey was undertaking a difficult and painful experience in rehabilitating her knee injury, Hannah was with her every bit of the year of soccer she missed.
Even when Hailey sprained the MCL in that bad right knee while working too hard to come back – and took another three months to heal – Hannah was there with her sister every step.
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“It was really hard,” Hailey said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done is go through that rehab. She was so helpful along the way. She went to PT with me all the time. She did it with me.
“They’re actually really hard workouts after you get past the initial couple months of surgery. She did it with me, and she’s been with me the whole way.”
Hannah’s sophomore year of high school soccer was spectacular, scoring 24 goals and having 14 assists as she was named first-team all-Greater Valley Conference and second-team all-state.
But they decided as a pair not to play high school soccer after Hailey’s injury.
Hannah sacrificed a lot of individual attention by not play high school soccer after her sophomore year.
“Some people didn’t support it, and that’s their opinion, but we had to decide what’s going to be best for our future,” said Hailey, who plans on majoring in physiology at Arizona. “In the long run, it’s what we needed to do.”
They still played club soccer with their long-time team, Tualatin Hills United Soccer Club’s Onyx team.
And in their junior year, the 4.0 grade point average students ran cross country for South Salem with Hailey placing 16th in the GVC district and Hannah placing 41st.
They both ran on South Salem’s team that placed 16th in the 6A state meet.
“High school was a really good experience for us,” said Hannah, who is undecided on a college major. “We sat and thought about it, and for us to develop as players, we needed to do something else. Training on our own, working on some more coaches, and this senior year we worked with a conditioning coach.
“It was a difficult decision not to play, but I think when we saw the benefits we could get out of doing some other training, the decision became clear what we needed to do to get better.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler