Braided and ready to compete

Echiverri+playing+in+her+signature+braided+braid.+

Echiverri playing in her signature braided braid.

Kate Walkup, Sports Editor

Braids. 

Not the perfect breakfast, right socks, or favorite sports drink. Just braids. 

“I feel like, in a way, it has to do with confidence,” said Kami Echiverri, a sophomore on the Linfield women’s soccer team. “I’ve had braids for forever. Ever since I learned how to braid, I’ve been braiding for every single game I can remember.” 

Yeah, everything you do in the morning before a competition matters, but having the perfect hairstyle is a major priority for Linfield athletes Echiverri, Makayla Erickson and Paige Richards.

Echiverri, a sophomore on the women’s soccer team, remembers begging her mom to lace her hair into flawless French braids for a soccer game when she was in middle school and just starting to play in tournaments. 

“My mom didn’t know how to do that,” Echiverri said. “She was like, ‘You’re gonna have to figure that out on your own.’”

So Echiverri taught herself. She learned how to French braid, Dutch braid, fishtail braid—she got so good at braiding hair that she soon became the designated hair braider for all of her soccer teams, including the Linfield women’s soccer team. 

Echiverri likes to stick to the same hairstyle on match days throughout the season as a way of keeping consistency with her pre-competition routine. Last spring she tested out a new style that she’s been sporting throughout the fall. Echiverri pulls her hair back into two Dutch braids and then secures them in a braided ponytail for this season. 

“I definitely feel like if I start something, I have to do it for the rest of the season,” Echiverri said. “I just have superstitions, and I’m pretty sure other people have superstitions too.” 

She’s not wrong. Echiverri’s name is on a long list of female athletes who have to have their hair done for competitions. It’s not just a thing they do for fun if they have time—it’s a must for performing well. 

“I just know that I really like to put braids in my hair,” said Erickson, a senior on the Linfield cross country team. “Like if I just had it in a little ponytail, it doesn’t work for competition. For practice, I’ll do that, but if I don’t have braids for races, I don’t feel confident. If it’s bumpy or anything, I’m like, “Nope, I gotta start over.’”

One of Erickson’s role models is Colleen Quigley—a professional steeplechaser who created the slogan “Fast Braid Friday.” Erickson also competes in the steeplechase during track season in the spring. 

Running was an obvious choice of sport for Erickson.

“It’s always kind of been engraved in me,” Erickson said, whose mom coached her middle school track and cross country teams. 

She spent a lot of her childhood around runners and the track throughout elementary school and finally got to join her mom’s team when she was in sixth grade. Erickson’s elementary school went through sixth grade, so she ran on a team with seventh and eighth graders for a year.

Erickson knew braids were the popular thing to do for track and cross country meets, but she wanted her braids to be perfect even though she was just starting. 

“That summer before freshman year I was looking up how to French braid on YouTube,” Ericksons said. “I learned how to start a French braid and how to do a fishtail, and then just moved on from there.” 

Getting her hair all braided and ready to race is high on Erickson’s priority list when it comes to race day. She always makes sure there’s enough time in her morning to fasten her hair into seamlessly smooth braids. 

“I usually wake up like, two hours before we actually have to do anything because first of all, I need to eat. And second of all, I need to make sure I get my hair braided, and I look good,” Erickson said. “I want to feel good and look good when I’m running.”

Hair braiding has become so popular for female athletes that the Linfield volleyball coaches have accepted the fact that their pre-game meetings have turned into hair braiding sessions. 

As a sophomore libero, Paige Richards has started to see more playing time this year, which means her hair needs to be even more secure than in the past. With long, thick, straight hair, Richards has struggled to keep any styles in her hair throughout an entire game. 

“I used to do pigtails into a ponytail, mostly just for function over fashion,” Richards said. “I just really needed to keep my baby hairs out of my eyes, so I would do that, just because it was fast and easy—I’m not very good at braiding my own hair.”

But this year, one of her teammates has been braiding Richards’s hair into two Dutch braids down the back of her head and then tying them back into a ponytail. As a libero, Richards needs to be able to see what’s happening at all areas on the court and can’t afford to have hair flying in her face. 

“You play for so long,” Richards said. “I can’t just stop and redo my hair in the middle of the set.” 

Richards didn’t start playing volleyball until later than the average collegiate volleyball player starts. Instead, she participated in competitive dance for eight years before starting volleyball her freshman year of high school. 

French twists, hairspray, false eyelashes—as a dancer, Richards was used to this look since she was four or five years old. 

“I got really used to doing full hair and makeup,” Richards said. “I’d have a full face of makeup and eyelashes—it was just weird. And now I hate makeup because of that. I hate putting it on, it’s just such a hassle.”

“I’d say we have like two team braiders,” Richards said. “If you need your hair braided, you go to one of those two.”

Now, Richards turns to her teammates who love to braid hair before games. And hair braiding is such an important team ritual that the coaches know to come into the locker room before games to give them a 20-minute hair-braiding warning. 

“We usually get food at like an hour or two hours before our game and then we just eat in the gym or on the bus if we’re away,” Richards said. “When we get to the gym, we usually have about 15 or 20 minutes before we have to be on the court, so we’ll put our stuff on as fast as possible and then it’s team braiding time.”

Everyone’s heard the “look good, feel good” saying that athletes use in regard to competitions, but most people don’t realize how seriously female athletes take their hair. It’s like forgetting their spikes at the airport or leaving their knee pads on their door room floor. 

If your hair isn’t braided, you’re not prepared to compete.