Bulldogs Beat

From the pitch to the court: How a 5-star recruit is balancing two sports at UGA

Once Chloe Chapman arrived on campus, Joni Taylor and Billy Lesesne — Georgia’s women’s basketball and soccer head coaches — met to balance the rare case of handling a two-sport talent. Lesesne didn’t know what to expect, nor did Chapman or her family. That fate lay in Taylor’s hands as the proverbial key to a four-year scholarship sits in Stegeman Coliseum.

All parties involved prepared for Chapman to play both simultaneously. Maybe twice a week with the basketball team, then one visit with the soccer team while playing in each game.

“I expected that I would literally be doing both at the same time,” said Chapman, a youthful ball of energy who also handles a 15-hour academic load. “Joni made the executive decision.”

Then, came the shocking verdict.

“She’s all soccer,” Taylor said to Lesesne, who searched for a boost after a nine-loss season in 2018. “She’s yours.”

Georgia opened preseason basketball practice on Sept. 27, and no heralded freshman in a No. 1 black practice jersey could be found. The Lady Bulldogs wanted nothing more than to support her at the Turner Soccer Complex. Taylor and her staff attended plenty of games, and the fourth-year basketball coach found herself getting carried away while rooting on the Mitchellville, Maryland native who was pursuing her second love at the Division I level.

Chapman became the soccer team’s star — and arguably a lifeline — during a run to its first SEC tournament appearance since 2015. Chapman led the Bulldogs in goals (six) while appearing off of the bench and averaging 30.1 minutes per game (13th-most on the roster, Abby Boyan led the team with 1,589 minutes for comparison). Chapman flew past defenders with elite-level speed and gave Georgia soccer the jolt it needed.

She had a coming-out party with a two-goal performance against Maryland and wowed her teammates. None of them — with either sport — could fully grasp her capabilities on the soccer pitch. Chapman’s athletic play continued on into SEC play with a late-game goal at Missouri when she took a pass off of her thigh and volleyed it past the goalkeeper.

For Chapman, it’s a testament to determination. She wouldn’t want this any other way and sees herself as “as good at both sports,” despite her five-star recruiting moniker coming on the hardwood.

“I really think she’s just scratching the surface, and for me she has a bright future in both sports,” Lesesne said. “She’s brought a real gift to this program.”

Chapman doesn’t see this balance as “hard,” but now comes the challenge. A quick transition. She awaits her fate after Georgia soccer lost 1-0 in the first round of the SEC tournament, and will know if it earned an NCAA tournament bid during Monday’s selection show. The Bulldogs are squarely on the bubble after a 8-7-4 campaign.

The basketball schedule began Thursday night, and Chapman made an appearance while sitting in the stands. She isn’t allowed to be with the team until soccer season officially ends. When it does, she will swap out her gym clothes for a Lady Bulldog uniform.

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Georgia guard Chloe Chapman (1) during a game against Kennesaw State in Stegeman Coliseum on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Tony Walsh Georgia Sports Communications

For Taylor, it’s a wait-and-see game as she anticipates the arrival of her biggest recruiting find of 2019.

“We’re excited because we haven’t had her since July,” forward Jenna Staiti said after recording a double-double in the season-opening win over Kennesaw State. “She’s antsy to get out there, you can tell. We’re excited to get someone as quick as her, and it might allow (junior point guard) Gabby (Connally) to have a break from handling the ball.”

Athletes are allowed 20 hours per week, a limit set by the NCAA, for practice and instruction time. Lesesne said each staff found ways for Chapman to spend excess time shooting in the gym, and assistant coach Karen Lange — who primarily works with guards — kept in contact with Chapman. She also got a taste of the Lady Bulldogs’ plans while playing in the team’s summer tour in Italy.

“When soccer is over, she will report to our team and get right in the mix,” Taylor said. “... Right away means right away.”

Georgia will do as it has since the beginning of the soccer season — Chapman would be periodically held out of some conditioning drills. Each of the training staffs will determine a balance to maintain health and wellness. So, if Chapman needs a day or two to recuperate, Taylor will grant it.

At the same time, Georgia expects production. It will be without two guards it hoped to have, Mikayla Coombs and Shaniya Jones, as their transfer waivers were denied by the NCAA. Chapman will have to help fill the void alongside Connally, Maya Caldwell, Que Morrison and others.

“She knows, at a base level, the bones of our offense and defense (from the Italy trip),” Taylor said. “Early on, we will have a ‘Chloe Package’ when she is in the game. We won’t try to overwhelm her, at point guard especially, with everything we are doing right now.”

Chapman is the fifth women’s basketball player to play two sports. She joins Donna Noonan (golf, 1975-77), Beth Timmons (one season on basketball as a swimmer, 2000), Maria Taylor (volleyball, 2007) and Stephanie Paul (discus/track and field, present). No Lady Bulldog has done so for all four seasons, but Chapman expects to be the first.

Her primary sport is basketball. She picked up both sports as a 4-year-old and played throughout, but had to quit club soccer in order to focus on AAU basketball through high school. She wouldn’t have become the coveted prospect she did if soccer remained the primary focus.

That’s not to say soccer is just a so-called hobby, though. Her father, Erik Chapman, started sending out high-school highlight tapes to college basketball coaches as a blind leap of hope. Once it was passed down to soccer coaches, calls started coming their way.

“I don’t think it was ever a dream of playing both,” Erik said. “We never thought about it. Eventually, we only focused on the schools that allowed her to play both.”

Lesesne might’ve been a tad hesitant to start. He rarely looks at high-school tapes in recruiting. But he saw something different and unique. Her highlights didn’t have a lot of goal scoring, but passing, distributing and lifting up her other teammates.

“They might’ve said ‘oh, this is just a side sport.’” Chapman said. “I have the same love for both.”

Her biggest asset, though, eloquently translates to either sport — speed. During high school, Chapman was the fourth-fastest nationally in the 100-meter for her age. Without track conditioning, she said, Chapman could run it in 10 or 11 seconds.

One team assistant compares Chapman’s speed to that of Morrison at full health or Marjorie Butler (2013-16).

“Her speed is ridiculous. It’s literally insane,” Connally said. “I’m really excited to get her out there on the court. I’ll go as far as saying she’s probably the fastest in the SEC.”

Said fellow freshman Javyn Nicholson: “This speed is something you can’t teach. She’s going to bring it on the defensive end, and on the offensive end you can’t really stop her. That adds to her ball movement and passing. It’s kind of unstoppable.”

Georgia opens with a non-conference schedule that’s “not for the faint of heart,” Taylor said. It includes games at No. 2 Baylor and against No. 11 UCLA. The Lady Bulldogs need Chapman, and the freshman will gradually transition her way into the sport that’s paying her way to Athens.

She will soon be all basketball.

“I want to create a new name for Georgia. I know last season was pretty hard,” Chapman said. “This team has a different drive in them.”

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