Ten months ago, Ally and Madi Bland started making their mark on Edgewood varsity sports.
The fraternal twin sisters split up in the fall, Madi playing the back row for the volleyball team and Ally working into the top five for the cross country team. They both played basketball, Madi a starter and Ally a top reserve until she too got her first start in the sectional opener that the Mustangs won after a tough, rebuilding season.
Finally, last Wednesday, they each celebrated their first sectional title of the year with the softball team, where Madi plays in left and Ally is a DH and backup pitcher. Both are having outstanding seasons in helping lift the Mustangs from 12-14 last year to 22-7 and a berth at regional.
“Absolutely crazy,” Madi said. “At the beginning of the season, I didn’t know if it was possible. Then we got there, absolutely killed it. Crazy how it worked out, with all the hard work we put in.”
Steeped in sports
The Blands, whose father Jerry was the head football coach at Edgewood from 2007-16, started with softball at age 5, and no t-ball for them thanks, starting off instead with an under-8 team.
A few years later, they picked up basketball and off they went. Always some place to be, always something to do, new people to meet and a lot of miles accumulating on the family cars.
“It’s always what we’ve been doing,” Madi said. “I just love the competing against other people. I love the competition and the physical aspect of it.”
For Ally, she likes basketball best, but softball and cross country are not far behind. For Madi, softball is just a tad ahead of basketball. But in both cases they plan to split their summer days as they did last year, with basketball and volleyball camps in the morning, travel softball on the weekends and running when Ally can squeeze it in.
“(Our parents) have given us so many great opportunities and supported us in everything we do,” Ally said. “And they don’t push us to do anything we don’t want to do.”
“They just helped us through hard losses and good wins,” Madi said. “They’re always there for us after we go 0-for-3 or 3-for-3. It doesn’t matter, they’re there for us.”
On to high school
They eventually became three-sport standouts and when they got the high school, that didn’t change, even though their roles might have. Fall was a successful time, with the volleyball team winning 26 games and the girls’ cross country team making it to semistate.
Basketball was a different story. Jaylen Robinson and Alyana Flynn, who are also softball teammates, were the only seniors and returning players for a varsity lineup with six freshmen and a small handful of juniors, non of whom started the year before.
Madi started and Ally was a backup point guard, a position she hadn’t played in junior high. But her defense won her a starting spot for the sectional and her defense helped lead to a win over West Vigo, a nice reward after a difficult three-win season.
After that, they both headed to the softball field, where the expectations would be much different, with seven starters back and four seniors in that group to lead the way.
“My mindset definitely had to change from basketball to softball,” Madi said. “Because I had a lot more older girls for softball. Basketball, we only had a few.”
“We had more competitive games than in basketball a lot of times,” Ally added.
At the same time, Madi learned a lot from the basketball experience that is helping out this spring. At this point, the old coach’s saying goes, they aren’t freshmen any more.
“It was definitely a mental battle going from a really winning program to a rebuilding one and back to a winning one again,” Madi said. “Just from the start of basketball to the end of basketball, it’s crazy how much mentally I’ve grown in my confidence.”
Success in softball
Now, after 10 months, softball coach Mick Hammett has a couple of varsity veterans in his freshman twins he could plug into the lineup. Yes, they’d have to adjust to their latest sport and the different level that varsity play against older competition brings, but they’d done it before and thrived.
Madi is hitting .437 with seven homers, 35 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
“I thought I could really bring hitting to our team,” Madi said. “Obviously, I’ve had a few home runs for them. And I didn’t know where I’d get to play in the field, but I knew I could contribute there somehow.”
Ally is hitting .367 with 14 RBI and 12 steals, along with going 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA in the circle.
“I knew I was going to be a backup pitcher,” Ally said. “And in the lineup, just getting little hits, getting on base and keeping it going.”
The seniors were a big part in their growth and success.
“They did a really good job in all three sports,” Madi said. “They brought us in and made us feel welcome to the team and made the season fun.”
Winning is fun, too. So is coming from behind to win a sectional title and extend the season a few more days.
“It gave our freshman year one to remember,” Ally said. “It showed how relentless we can be.”
And over the next three years, the Blands will likely continue to remind people of that very fact.
“Being someone who can help and change a game,” Ally said, “has been really great.”
Contact Jim Gordillo at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JimGordillo.