The feel good story of the spring around the Riverside-Brookfield High School sports scene has to be the softball team. Coming off a 10-18 campaign in 2016, the Bulldogs are sitting pretty at 17-6 this year with even higher aspirations for the rest of season.
Could it be all the dancing and singing on the team bus?
“This season has been great. Every time we go on the bus, we always play music and no matter what, everyone is dancing and singing together,” RBHS catcher Cameron Shaw said. “I think that actually helps our positivity on the field or even at practice. It’s significantly different than last year.”
But, in the middle of all the fun, you’ll find Alivia and Nadia Ranieri. The North Riverside sisters, a senior shortstop/pitcher and freshman pitcher/outfield, respectively, reflect the mindset of all the players.
“Having the Ranieri sisters on the team has had a positive impact in many aspects this year,” head coach Doug Schultz said. “First of all, Alivia and Nadia have an awesome work ethic that has rubbed off on the entire team. When it’s time to work in practice Alivia and Nadia never take it easy.
“On top of that both girls know how important it is to be relaxed. They know when to be a little goofy at times to keep the group from being too intense.”
Alivia is a three-year varsity starter and the team’s starting shortstop. She’s hitting .443 with 16 RBIs, 23 runs scored, 27 hits, a .528 on base percentage and .607 slugging percentage. She’s signed with Augustana College, where she could play shortstop and pitch as well. She’s planning to major in business administration.
“I always put academics first at RB,” Alivia said. “I always do my homework before practice and then finish it after. I’ve always tried to be a true student-athlete, with the student part coming first.”
Nadia is a freshman who is hitting .413 with 12 RBIs. As a pitcher, she’s 3-1 with a 6.94 earned run average. While her ERA is high, she projects as a potential Division I college player.
“She has a lot of potential,” Alivia said about her sister. “Last summer, there were a bunch of college scouts at her travel team games. DePaul was videotaping her and schools like Wisconsin watched her pitch. If she keeps on working hard, she can definitely be a college pitcher.”
The admiration is mutual between the sisters.
“We always laugh and have a lot of fun playing together,” Nadia said. “We’ve been playing since we were little. We used to play catch together and we have been in the same travel softball program, Chicago Outburst, for many years.
“Alivia is a great player. She gives me so many lessons about softball. We are always partners during hitting, throwing and fielding drills. It’s going to be so sad at the end of the season because it will be our last year together. I don’t really want it to end.”
Considering the sisters’ talent, coupled with fellow teammates like Shaw, Kailyn Ngo, Amanda Martinez, Marissa McDermott and Amy Kulaga, the Bulldogs could extend the season deep into the playoffs.
Along with the younger Ranieri, Nora Dachota and Tori Blood headline a solid pitching staff.
“We have already exceeded last year’s win total,” Alivia said. “I’m a little nervous, because I don’t want us to go downhill from here. I want us to keep getting better and keep winning. You want to play your best at the end of the season and in the playoffs.”
Whatever happens the rest of the season, the Ranieri sisters will certainly be in the middle of the action.
“They seem to get along perfectly unlike many other siblings,” Ngo said. “They kind of just mirror each other since they both always wear bows and like [musical artists] G-Eazy and The Chainsmokers. They keep everybody on their toes with their entertaining stories and jokes.”
About the only point of contention between the sisters is their growing feud over sandwiches. According to Alivia, she and her mom, Kathy, make sandwiches every day for the bus; however, Nadia always gets in an argument with Alivia about sandwich distribution.
Kathy offers clarification.
“Making a sandwich for Nadia has become a ritual. If Nadia is not on time for the bus or gets her sister Alivia mad, she will not get the sandwich. And let me say, they are really good sandwiches.”
“It’s pretty funny to watch,” Shaw added about the battle over cold cuts. “It happens every day.”