Minnesota leadoff spot has a double-Sward edge

Freshman Chrissy Sward is set to replace her sister at the top of the lineup next year.

Chris Lempesis

Stephanie Sward and Chrissy Sward were never extremely close as sisters growing up.

Put them on the same softball team, and that changes a little bit.

Make Chrissy Sward the heir apparent for her older sister’s leadoff spot in the lineup, and you’ve got a recipe for some belated bonding.

Chrissy Sward, a freshman designated player, is in line to succeed her senior sister, Stephanie Sward, for the top spot in the Gophers lineup when the elder Sward graduates following the season.

While Stephanie Sward said it has been “interesting,” she and Chrissy Sward said the process has gone well, so far.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be like,” Stephanie Sward said. “But, yeah, it’s been good.”

Part of this uncertainty stems from this being the first time they’ve ever been members of the same team, as freshmen weren’t allowed to play on North St. Paul High School’s varsity squad when both were students there.

But now, the two are making the most of the opportunity.

Stephanie Sward said she has tried to help her sister with both the physical and mental parts of the college game.

At the plate, she has tried to help her sister be patient and manage the strike zone. Mentally, Stephanie Sward has tried to help her keep an even keel.

“Just basically, to always keep your head up and make sure that you don’t let success or failure affect how you’re playing,” Stephanie Sward said. “And know that everything is going to come along. You have four years here.”

Chrissy Sward, who has played 29 of the team’s 32 games and started 23 of them, said her sister has also been a help in understanding the day-to-day instructions from the coaches.

This season has been beneficial for the two off the field as well. They said their relationship has grown much stronger as their softball careers have merged.

“We never really used to talk to each other,” Chrissy Sward said. “And now, we are with each other every single day. So I guess that changes it.”

While the two are admittedly very different people and players – Stephanie Sward’s game is built more on speed, and Chrissy Sward’s is built more on power – co-coach Lisa Bernstein said they are not completely different.

“They have different mindsets, but one thing that runs through them is that they’re both very hard-working,” she said. “They’re both very dedicated.”

This dedication will be important as Chrissy Sward will have some big shoes to fill next season. Stephanie Sward is leading the Gophers in batting average (.324), hits (35), runs (20) and stolen bases (19).

Still, the younger sister said she welcomes the situation.

“I think (there) will be pressure,” she said. “But I’ve always batted leadoff, so I’m used to that kind of pressure, and I like to bat leadoff.”

Co-coach Julie Standering said she was not surprised by Chrissy Sward’s outlook. Chrissy Sward also said her mental makeup will help her deal with the expectations and that she doesn’t feel pressure.

And a little help from her older sister won’t hurt, either.