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Pandemic pulls softball-loving Chanhassen sisters so close they could be Border Battle opponents

By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune, 05/19/21, 5:30PM CDT


COVID-19 wiped out pitcher Maddie Schwartz’s 2020 season at Wisconsin, allowing her to return home and grow closer to her four-years-younger sister Sydney. Now she and her Minnesota-bound sister could end up facing each other in college.

Chanhassen junior Sydney Schwartz, who has verbally committed to the Gophers, pitched in a game against Hopkins on May 14. Photo: ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on just about everything, but for Chanhassen’s softball-loving Schwartz sisters, there was a positive side effect: It helped turn siblings into closer friends.

Maddie Schwartz, a junior pitcher for the University of Wisconsin, recently wrapped up her season. She posted an 11-11 record in 28 appearances — 21 of them starts — with a 2.23 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 156⅔ innings pitched.

Sydney Schwartz is junior pitcher for Chanhassen, the Storm’s ace in the circle. She’s 13-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 87⅓ innings. She’s tossed a no-hitter and five one-hitters and hasn’t been too shabby at the plate, either. She’s hitting .512 with six home runs.

Clearly, softball is big deal with the Schwartz sisters, who connected with the sport when they were young while their father, Chad, was having them try on different sports for size.

“Softball was the one we both enjoyed and stuck with,” Maddie said.

The sisters’ four-year age difference staggered their development on the field and maturity off of it. They played together for just one season, in 2018. Maddie was a senior and Chanhassen’s best pitcher and Sydney was just discovering how good she could be.

“I was an eighth-grader, playing with my sister, but I was not mature,” Sydney said. “I think I took it for granted.”

Chanhassen had its streak of three consecutive state tournament appearances broken that season, losing to Prior Lake in extra innings in the Class 3A, Section 2 finals.

And just like that, their one opportunity to play together was over. They both played for the same club program, Midwest Speed, “but never the same team,” Maddie said.

They practiced often with each other — a key component to their success as players — and their father was always there “pushing us to get better,’’ Maddie said. “Both of our parents taught us about having high expectations, both athletically and academically. About the right ways to go about things, setting the right example, being part of a team.”

Maddie went off to Wisconsin, following a grandfather and great-grandfather who had both been athletes there. “We’re a Badger family,’’ Maddie said.

With Madison four hours away, the sisters naturally grew apart. When the pandemic stole the spring season, Maddie came home.

Wisconsin junior Maddie Schwartz. Photo by Tom Lynn/Wisconsin Athletic Communications

Unable to play softball for the first time in years, they leaned on each other, working out together daily. Maddie worked on her pitching and Sydney would catch, or even take a few swings. Then it would be Sydney’s turn.

“Every day, we had something different to focus on,’’ Sydney said. “It was about getting one percent better every day.”

They developed a routine: Maddie would drive to the practice field — “she wanted to control the radio and crank her tunes,” Sydney said with laugh, “and drive me nuts.” After practice, they took turns paying for Starbucks.

“We got a lot closer,” Maddie said. “I don’t see her as just my sister, I see her as a very close friend. We found out we could talk to each other about everything. I don’t think either of us would be anywhere close to where we are without each other.”

When Maddie went back to college, Sydney developed an array of pitches, including a hard-to-track rise-ball and a drop that has become equally baffling to hitters. Her bat, always lively, has become such a feared weapon opponents refuse to pitch to her.

“I have 11 walks so far,” she said. “I know I’m not going to get good pitches to hit, so I’ve have to change my swing a little bit.”

She no longer plays club softball for Midwest Speed, having been invited last year to tryout for the Chicago-based Bandits softball program, which features some of the top high school-age talent in the country. The move, Sydney said, was made with her future in mind.

“It’s super-competitive. You have to earn your spot,” she said. “If you’re in a slump, you have to figure things out. It’s going to get me ready for college.”

Despite the lofty company, playing for her high school team is a priority. She’s more than willing to defer to the seniors when it comes to team leadership, despite her impressive credentials.

“She could be the best player our team at every position,” Chanhassen coach Joe Coenen said. “She’s our best pitcher, best hitter, best fielder. But the thing she’s best at is she’s our best teammate. She’s always supportive, knows her role and accepts it.”

Her dedication to her craft paid off when she verbally committed to play for Minnesota. “There’s something about being the hometown hero that’s supercool,” she gushed. “I wanted to play in my home state and represent Minnesota.”

The natural rivalry between the two Big Ten schools is not lost on the sisters. “I’ve been caught wearing a Minnesota sweatshirt at Wisconsin games,” Sydney said.

Despite the distance between them, Maddie and Sydney communicate often. Earlier this season, Maddie received a text during a game, letting her know Sydney had struck out 18 batters in a game, breaking Maddie’s Chanhassen team record.

“I checked my phone after the game and there was an emoji and her saying ‘I beat your record,’ ” Maddie said. “I was like ‘Shoot, she got me in the first game of her junior year.’ We’re kind of competitive that way.”

Owing to the pandemic, it’s likely Maddie will exercise her option for another year of collegiate eligibility. That sets up the possibility of the sisters facing each other in Big Ten play: Maddie, a fifth-year senior, pitching to Sydney, a freshman.

“I’ve thought about that a lot,” Maddie said. “We’ve talked about it. It would be such a cool thing.”

Sydney, plotting her strategy, said, “I know exactly what she’d throw me. She knows my weaknesses. I think I could use that.”

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