Rachel Wilkerson, a 2018 Centralia High School alumna and soon-to-be Centralia College graduate, has signed to play tennis at Highline College in Des Moines, Washington.
With no tennis program at Centralia College, Wilkerson has spent the past two years playing both volleyball and basketball for the Trailblazers after having committed there first before receiving a scholarship offer from Highline.
“I kind of kept contact with her to make sure I still wanted to play tennis,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson and Highline tennis coach Laura Rosa set up a plan back in 2018 where Rosa would reserve a spot for her for the 2020-21 season, after she received her AA from Centralia College.
“We waited patiently for Rachel to come to Highline,” Rosa said in a press release. “I am beyond excited to finally get her on the team and on the court… there have to be just a handful of college athletes ever who legitimately played three different sports.”
Wilkerson was a three-time state tennis qualifier at Centralia High School, placing eighth at state in singles as a junior and fifth at state in doubles her senior year. She was a three-time all-2A Evergreen Conference selection and was team captain for two years. She helped the Tigers place second at state her junior year, tying the second-highest finish in program history.
But coming out of high school, it was her volleyball skills that first garnered interest from colleges. The 5-foot-10 outside hitter and middle blocker was a two-time all-league pick for the Tigers, and went on to record 71 kills and 106 digs after starting all 18 matches for the Trailblazers this past fall.
After signing with the volleyball team, Wilkerson caught the interest of Trailblazers’ basketball coach Caleb Sells during the annual high school all-star game at the college. He invited her to an open gym, where she wowed him even more, leaving with another scholarship offer.
She went on to average 7.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game this past winter for the Trailblazers, helping them to a 21-7 overall and 14-0 league record, along with the West Region title. The Blazers ended the year with a No. 1 seed in the since-canceled Northwest Athletic Conference basketball tournament. Their 14-game win streak is the second-longest active streak in the conference.
“She has great drive and determination in all that she does,” Centralia College athletic director Bob Peters told Highline College. “The gains she made athletically from year one to two were outstanding and she is a top-notch student.”
On top of juggling and excelling at three sports in high school and two in college, Wilkerson is also elite academically. She was a two-time academic state champion at Centralia High School and currently holds a 3.82 GPA at the college. She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
And now she’s working on making the shift from volleyball and basketball to tennis, a sport she hasn’t played competitively since her senior year of high school in 2018. It’s the sport she’s played the least, as well. She’s played basketball since third grade, volleyball since sixth grade and didn’t start tennis until ninth grade. It’s since become her favorite sport.
“It’s the one I’ve played the least amount of time but I’ve made the most progress in it,” Wilkerson said. “I was just a natural and I picked it up fast.”
Wilkerson’s rise in the sport came quickly. She went from playing junior varsity that first year as a freshman to advancing to the state tournament just a year later. She would stay after team practices and work on her fundamentals with Centralia High School girls tennis coach Deb Keahey.
Wilkerson was planning to train with the Tigers this spring, including with senior Carissa Kaut, who was Wilkerson’s doubles partner when the pair placed fifth at state in 2018.
“I was going to go help her practice and get her prepared,” Wilkerson said. “Then since the coronavirus, I wasn’t able to do that.”
Keahey is trying to set up some training time with Wilkerson and Keahey’s niece, who used to play Division-I tennis. But for now, Wilkerson has been relegated to practicing by hitting around with friends here and there. She’s set to join a Highline Thunderbirds team that went 1-5 overall and 1-1 in league play before the 2019-20 season was canceled in March due to the novel coronavirus. The Thunderbirds have had recent success in women’s tennis, however, placing second as a team at the 2018-19 NWAC tennis championships. Wilkerson is looking forward to restarting her tennis career at a new college.
“It makes me feel good,” Wilkerson said. “I’m excited. I think it won’t be too hard to pick up, just because I learn so fast.”