TAMPA — At first, Maddie Farrell was determined to make her own softball identity. Her older sister, Taylor, already was playing at the University of Tampa. So that sent her in another direction. She committed to Florida Atlantic, one of her Division I school options.
And that looked like a fine decision for Farrell, a catcher last season at Durant High School.
But it didn't feel right.
"We had always played together on travel teams," Farrell said. "Some people might be like, 'What's it like to play with your sister all the time?' For me, it's just normal.
"So when it came down to it, I knew I needed to come to UT. It has been kind of nice. I came to college like a little lost puppy and she was able to show me everything. I think of her like another player on the field, but it's definitely nice having her around. There's nothing like family."
Spartans coach Leslie Kanter likes to describe her program as a family.
And if you examine the roster, that seems accurate.
Maddie and Taylor Farrell are the latest example of a UT sister combination.
Senior outfielder Kelsey Humphrey, from St. Petersburg Catholic, followed in the footsteps of her sister, Kristi, who was a Spartans catcher and four-year letter winner (2008-11).
Junior outfielder Alex Walton, from St. Johns in the Jacksonville area, followed her sister, Brie, who was a Spartans outfielder and four-year letter winner (2010-13).
For Humphrey and Walton, who attended UT games and emulated their older sisters, their college choice was never a question.
"I was one of those little kids getting dragged to games," Humphrey said. "I definitely grew up in the bleachers. I would watch my sister and definitely picture myself playing here. So that thought was put in my mind pretty early. That's how I envisioned it."
"When I first got here, it was like a joke with the people around the program, 'Oh, I see you followed your sister's lead,' " Walton said. "But I knew if I wanted to play college softball, it was 100 percent here or nowhere. I knew everyone on the team. I knew how Coach Kanter treated everyone and wanted to be part of that."
Walton was a catcher in her younger days, but soon found herself converted to outfield.
Just like her sister.
"I guess you could say I'm completely following my sister's path," Walton said. "Sometimes, Coach Kanter will joke with me, 'I wish you had Brie's speed.' And I'll laugh.
"That kind of thing might drive some people crazy. I have never disliked being compared to my sister because she's such an amazing person. I'm the youngest of four and (Brie) is like my second mom. You can compare me to her all you want. I do want to be like her."
On and off the field.
When Walton needs drive and motivation to become a better player, she looks to her sister.
"It always fueled my competitiveness in a good way," Walton said. "Anything she did, I always tried to do better. But I've always looked up to her."
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Humphrey said she feels the same way about her sister, who just finished a master's program in nursing and now works at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
"She has always helped me and been a great role model," Humphrey said. "She would have her own accomplishments, but she'd love to hear the stories I came home with.
"That's the kind of attitude that makes a difference in a team, everybody caring about everybody and lifting each other up. We have some sisterly bonds here on this team, even though we're not actual sisters. That kind of chemistry translates to the field. As a senior, I couldn't ask for any more. We are a together group."
Humphrey and Walton love it when their sisters stay in touch. They attend as many UT games as they can, although it's more problematic for Walton's sister, who is married and lives in Georgia.
But whether in person or through the Internet, they are constantly staying in touch, keeping up with their younger sisters' softball exploits.
For the younger Farrell, her sister is a daily presence, whether it's on the softball field or around the UT campus. She wouldn't have it any other way.
"The love is always there," the younger Farrell said. "Sometimes, it's tough love. I know she cares about what's best for me and that's a big security for me."
In softball — and in life — there's nothing like family.