Riley Borchardt has won championships on the both the wooden courts and grassy fields of Cate School, but her sights are set on a future in the water.
She’s already gone eyeball-to-eyeball with sharks and whales, studying both during a trip last year to the Islands of the Bahamas.
“I was always going to the beach as a kid,” Borchardt said. “I’d be in the water for six hours and never want to leave.”
Her studies in marine biology played no small part in her winning the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award for Cate School as a star in both volleyball and lacrosse.
“Riley is a shining example of the entire student-athlete,” Cate athletic director Wade Ransom said. “She really works hard in all aspects of her life.”
He’s known her since she was in grammar school, “running around here when her brother Ryan was playing soccer for us.”
“I’m definitely from a big sports family,” Borchardt said. “Soccer was the first sport I got into when I was little. Then I did softball, swimming and tennis. I did everything possible. So did my brother.
“He landed in soccer and I landed in volleyball.”
Her father Kirk played football in Illinois. Her mother Cece, a high school tennis player in Tarzana, still swings a mean racket at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club.
But Riley has dreamt of an aquatic life ever since taking her first overnight trip to the Channel Islands with her grade-school class at Marymount.
“I had a P.E. teacher, Karen Keltner, who really influenced me,” she said. “She’d do these summer camps and we’d go out to Anacapa and Santa Cruz on her 50-foot sailboat and stay there for about four days.
“It was a big turning point for me. I decided that I really wanted to study this.”
She’s a senior honors student at Cate, having earned a grade-point average of 4.14. She’s also a school leader, serving as both a teaching assistant for the school’s Freshman Seminar and as captain of the Rams’ championship volleyball team.
Borchardt made the All-Frontier League First Team as a sophomore while leading the Rams to a conference title. They finished with a 14-5 record, advancing all the way to the CIF-Southern Section quarterfinals.
Cate won another title after moving up to the Tri-Valley League the following year, going 17-4 overall. Borchardt earned second-team honors as a setter and opposite hitter. She’s played club volleyball since the third grade.
“I take it pretty seriously, although I’m not going to pursue it in college,” she said. “The schools I’m interested in academically (the University of Miami and UC San Diego) are high Division 1 schools and I don’t think it’s possible for me to play there.
“Volleyball has been a good outlet for me — a way to get away from the stress of school and things like that. It’s really nice to be able to work a different part of your mind with it and not worry about things for a while.”
Her athleticism as a lacrosse defender also helped Cate claim last year’s L.A. Lacrosse Foundation Division II Championship. The Rams avenged a pair of close regular-season defeats to cross-town rival Dos Pueblos by beating the Chargers 6-3 in the final. They had advanced to the final with a 15-13 upset of top-seeded Peninsula High.
“I did kind of expect us to do that well, based on the players we had,” Borchardt said.
“Most of the people I know at other schools is through volleyball, but I did know two of DP’s lacrosse players,” she added. “That last match, we were really cohesive and played probably the best we had all season.”
Borchardt, who has taken summer school classes in marine biology at both Cornell and the University of Miami, serves as a science tutor in Cate’s Peer Tutor Program. She’s also headed up the campus Scuba Club and even spent her spring break on a dive trip that the school arranged with the Eleuthera Islands Institute in the Bahamas.
“We got to go scuba diving with the sharks, which was interesting for me,” she said. “We surveyed them and did other scientific work with them.
“We also tagged turtles. The hardest part was catching them. I didn’t catch one, unfortunately, but a few others did, and we were able to tag them.”
The highlight of the trip came when a pod of humpback whales swam past their boat. One of the boys dove in after them, and Borchardt soon followed suit.
“It was only the second sighting since the 1980s —humpback whales usually aren’t in that area,” she said. “We jumped in and swam across and then sat still when they passed by. I was something like only six feet away from them.
“For me, personally, it wasn’t scary at all. It was more interesting than anything else.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept Borchardt from pursuing many adventures this school year. The CIF has pushed the fall volleyball season to the spring where it may conflict with lacrosse, if it gets played at all.
“I came to terms with it a while ago,” she said. “Honestly, the most disappointing thing for me is not being able to keep up the traditions at Cate — and actually less for me and more for the freshmen.”
The activities she’s missed most were those she would have experienced as a teaching assistant with the Freshman Seminar.
“The teaching assistant program, which is unique to Cate, is a real opportunity for seniors to have direct, positive impact on underclassmen,” Ransom pointed out. “They help them with their transition to a new school. For some of them, it’s to a new home — living away from home for the first time.”
Borchardt recalls how uncomfortable she felt upon her arrival at Cate.
“But looking back now, I think those were some of the best things I experienced … the square dance at the beginning of the year, and the freshman camping trip,” she said. “The freshmen not being able to do those things has made me the most sad about all this.
“Typically, the seniors are the ones pushing the freshmen to get out there and make friends and things like that.”
And maybe even take a swim with some 30-ton mammals.