Two sports. Two athletes. Same season. One tough choice.

Lena Bailey zips through and around defenders, all while showing off an uncanny ability to put the ball through the goal. 

Or the net. 

Playing multiple sports can be an anomaly in this age of specialization, where athletes focus on only one at an early age and play it year-round.

What Bailey does is more uncommon. 

The Tampa Catholic senior excels in two sports in the same season.  

In the winter, Bailey plays basketball and soccer. 

It can be hard enough trying to fit two sports into a school year. After all, the current high school sports calendar is so compressed that the seasons actually overlap; fall practices and games go on in the postseason as winter sports begin.

What Bailey does requires even more of a balancing act. 

A few times a week, Bailey goes to basketball practice at 6 a.m., spends the rest of the day at school, then heads to soccer practice at 3:45 p.m. Sometimes, she squeezes in another practice with her club soccer team, Tampa Bay United. 

Games – or matches – can be just as challenging. 

Last year, Bailey remembers playing a soccer match at Berkeley Prep, then racing over to Academy of the Holy Names to get to the basketball game by halftime. 

It does not happen often but when games or matches are scheduled on the same night, Bailey has to choose. 

That makes tonight’s decision all the more difficult. 

The Crusaders soccer team travels to Orlando to play Montverde in the Class 3A region finals. The basketball team also heads to Sarasota to take on Cardinal Mooney in the region semifinals. 

Two sports. Two important postseason contests. 

Both on the same night. 

Bailey’s choice?  

“I’m playing soccer,” she said. “It’s tough, but everyone understands.”

Bailey does not just play both sports. She is the second-leading scorer on the soccer team (24 goals) and is tied for third on the basketball team in scoring (8.9 points per game). 

That production is a big reason why both programs made it this far in the playoffs. And why her absence in one will be impactful. 

Bailey made her intentions known before the season. Soccer took precedence because of her commitment to it all four years of high school and even longer at the club level. 

She did not play basketball until her sophomore year. There are other sports, too. Volleyball in the fall. Lacrosse in the spring. But those only were for a year or two. 

This year, Bailey is finishing her high school career by running track.

“I’ve always tried to play as many sports as possible,” Bailey said. “Soccer is the one constant, so I had to stick with that one in the playoffs if I had to choose.”

Tanner Strickland came close to a similar decision.

The Plant senior, who is teammates with Bailey on the Tampa Bay United club team, also plays soccer and basketball at the high school level. 

Last week, both teams were still alive in the playoffs. 

What would Strickland do if they both kept advancing?

“I would have played basketball,” she said. 

It did not matter. 

The Panthers’ basketball team made it to tonight’s region final. The soccer team lost in last week’s region semifinals. 

Strickland’s loyalty to basketball is understandable given her family’s history in the sport. 

Her father, Rod Strickland, spent 15 years in the NBA and is currently the head coach at Long Island University. Her older brothers, Tai and Terrell, both played at Tampa Catholic and St. Petersburg before moving on to Division I-A programs. 

“I grew up with basketball, but I played soccer at an early age,too,” Strickland said. 

At Plant, Strickland stuck with basketball all four years. This year, she added soccer after playing it at the club level for more than a decade.  She finished second on the soccer team in scoring with 13 goals and is currently the third-leading scorer for the Panthers in basketball at 11.7 points per game.

“It’s my senior year so I thought I should give it a try in high school,” Strickland said of soccer. “The coaches and teammates have all been supportive.”

The unwavering focus on one sport by high school athletes stems from the goal of landing the ultimate prize: a college scholarship.

Bailey and Strickland made that happen while still enjoying a diverse sporting experience in high school.

In November, they both signed with Division I-A programs in soccer (Bailey with Florida and Strickland with Kentucky). They made their college choices official around the time their winter sports were beginning.

So how did their future college coaches feel about them playing multiple sports in high school? 

“They actually encouraged it,” Bailey said.

“They saw the benefits of it,” Strickland added. 

Timing. Stamina. Competitiveness. They are all useful factors no matter the sport. 

“In lacrosse, I can use the timing in that to help me in soccer, especially on headers,” Bailey said. “In fact, I scored on a pretty nice header in our last playoff game.”

Bailey and Strickland, once opponents in club soccer, are now teammates. They talk about what is like juggling so many sports at once. 

Next year, those worries are over. 

They will be squaring off as opponents again – in one sport. 

“It will be pretty much soccer at that point,” Bailey said.