Riley Strandgard couldn't wait for the time when her younger sister Spenser could join her in the dugout for the Sherrard softball team.|
At the same time, she knew that having Spenser with her would be a one-and-done proposition before graduating and moving on to continue her academic and softball careers at Illinois State University.
But instead of wishing they could have at least one more year together, the Strandgards are relishing each moment and taking advantage of their opportunity.
"I mean, it's sad that it's only one year," said Riley, "but it is rare that two sisters get to play together, so I'm grateful for the one year we have together."
Paired together, senior center fielder Riley and freshman pitcher/left fielder Spenser Strandgard have been key contributors to the Tigers' 22-3 campaign. They have locked up at least a share of the Three Rivers Conference's South Division title, taking an 11-0 record into today's league finale at second-place Rockridge.
"We're more competitive with each other," said Spenser. "She's always yelling at me, pushing me, telling me I can do better. We try to outdo each other — if Riley gets a hit, I'll try to get one my next time up. If she hits a home run, that's what I want to do. We push each other."
The older Strandgard, who can rightly be regarded as one of Sherrard's best female athletes of all-time, not to mention one of the Tigers' greatest softball players, certainly has the numbers to encourage her sibling with. This season, she is batting .558 with 11 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 46 RBIs. Her 42 career homers have her tied for seventh on the state's all-time list.
"Ever since Riley started in ASA, I always wanted to follow in her footsteps," said Spenser. "She's been a role model to me; I've always looked up to her. When we're in the outfield, she'll always talk to me. She'll teach me things to make me better, almost like a coach."
Besides hitting .365 with three doubles, three triples and 28 RBIs, the younger Strandgard has made her mark as one-third of a strong Tiger pitching staff. She is 6-0 with a 0.25 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 36 innings.
"I knew she would definitely get some time in the circle and that she could hold her own out there," said Riley. "She's proven that she deserves to be out there."
And when they take the field together, the older Strandgard looks at Spenser not so much as her sister but as another teammate, wearing the same uniform and aspiring to the same goals.
"(Spenser) understands it and fills her role very well," she said. "She's definitely made me proud."
However, softball has been but one part of the sibling equation for this pair, who also showcase their diamond talents in ASA with the Milan Aces (Riley) and the Heartland Havoc 98 (Spenser, a former member of the Quad City Firebirds).
For starters, the duo got to compete together on the volleyball court when Spenser was brought up to the varsity late in the season, helping Sherrard to the 2A regional finals. Then, the sisters were together throughout the basketball season, in which the Tigers reached the Sweet 16.
"When I got pulled up for volleyball, everyone was good to me," said Spenser. "In basketball, Coach (Doug) Swanson talked to me, kept me positive, and all the girls treated me very well. By the time of softball season, it was that much easier to just go in there."
With the season winding down and regional play set to start next week, the daughters of Mark and Kathy Strandgard won't get to enjoy each other's company on the field for much longer.
"Before you know it, she'll be gone, and I'm not looking forward to that," Spenser said. "It's been a blessing to play with her, and I'm not taking it for granted. It's going to be a rough day when she leaves."
From the point of view of the older Strandgard sister, that only provides extra incentive to make the upcoming postseason as long a run as possible.
"It kind of stinks that this is the only year we have," said Riley, who has also gone back behind the plate to catch three of her sister's games, "but you never know, maybe she'll end up going to Illinois State. I just hope we can go far so that we get the most out of it together."
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