MINONK – Alivia and Alaina Tjaden were not dragged into softball as kids. They eagerly joined the family fray.
“It started practicing with our cousins (Madison and Taylor) and (sister) Lauren,” Alivia said. “We were always the younger kids. Now it’s our time to play and it’s really nice.”
“We wanted to be just like them. We wanted to play when we were older,” said Alaina. “Since then we’ve grown a love for the game. It’s become a big part of our lives.”
The Tjaden twins will represent Fieldcrest on the Area squad in the Pantagraph all-star game Monday at 6 p.m. at Normal’s Champion Fields.
“It’s a big honor to play in the game,” Alivia said. “We always used to go to them and watch the big names who had done well before us. It’s nice to be able to keep the legacy going.”
The road to Champion Fields to face the Intercity squad began for the Tjadens with t-ball at the age of four and an introduction to travel ball at eight. Their father, Bruce, was their first travel coach and helped develop all three of his and wife Lynn’s three daughters into pitchers.
“He was our coach even in rec ball before that,” said Alaina. “I feel like he taught us all the basic fundamental skills we built off of and use today.”
“He has always been really into softball,” said Alivia, who also credited her mother for being there with a sympathetic ear as well as having the softball essentials of drinks, snacks and sun screen at the ready.
“We would probably play even if they did not want us to. It has helped they are very supportive about it. Mom used to always braid our hair when we were younger so it did not get in our face.”
Alivia was Fieldcrest’s primary pitcher as a senior, as she posted an earned run average of 2.01 along with 141 strikeouts to just 18 bases on balls. Alaina also pitched on occasion, but did more damage at the plate with a .493 batting average and a .537 on-base percentage.
“Alivia worked hard in the offseason. She can hit her spots well,” Knights’ coach Liz Kay said. “We needed Alaina in the outfield more. It’s not a lack of pitching skills.
"She gets a great read on balls in the outfield. She makes contact and makes things happen at the offensive end.”
Kay described the sisters as “two totally different personalities. Alivia is more of a free spirit. Alaina takes everything more seriously with softball. They are really good sisters and good friends to each other. They get along with everybody, and they definitely get along with each other.”
Alivia and Alaina will play with Fieldcrest teammate and catcher Jacie Sullivan in the all-star game.
“It’s really exciting because this is our last high school memory,” Alaina said.
The Tjadens found a travel team home in the Bloomington-Normal Girls Softball Association. They are in their fifth year of playing with the BNGSA Matrix and alternate as pitchers with the team.
“On the field, we really have that bond,” said Alaina. “It’s an understanding you’re going to be playing where the coaches see fit. Whether you’re pitching, outfield or first base, it does not matter.”
"It's nice to be able to play with your sister and go through all the experiences with her," Alivia said. "I always trusted when she came in she could do just as good as I could."
The Tjadens are former Matrix teammates with fellow all-star Paige Schiffman of Heyworth and current teammates with Intercity players Scout Paul of Central Catholic and Normal Community sisters Jessi and Josi Grove.
Alaina plans to follow in her sister Lauren’s footsteps and play softball at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby. She could pitch or play the outfield.
Alivia is headed to East Peoria-based Illinois Central College and will be enrolled in the physical therapist assistant program.
“I will not have time for softball,” she said. “But, if I did not get into that program, I would have been joining Alaina at IVCC to play.”