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File photos by MICHAEL REIDNorthern seniors Elissa Orlandi, above, and Tayler Schaefer, below, are heading to Shepherd University, but first they look for a fourth state title.
The NCAA Division II Rams inked catcher Elissa Orlandi and outfielder Tayler Schaefer, who have helped lead the Patriots to three straight Class 3A state championships.
"I'm really excited," said the 17-year-old Schaefer, who plans to major in nursing. "I'm ready to step it up and just have so much fun playing softball. I know you can't really play forever, so four more years is going to be awesome. It's a whole new level."
"It's a whole new experience and at a whole new level, so I'll probably be nervous," said Orlandi, 17, who is looking at a career in communications/broadcasting. "But it'll be great having my best friend there and that will make me more comfortable."
Northern head coach Robert Earl Radford added, "I think it's nice they're both going to Shepherd. I think they'll be given an opportunity to compete for a spot early on in their college careers."
The pair joins teammate Kelsey Graham, who signed in December to play at Washington College (Md.).
Schaefer played first base and outfield last season for the Patriots and sported a .427 batting average, a .506 on-base and a .707 slugging percentage. She cranked out 32 hits, including 15 doubles and three triples, and had a team-high 33 RBIs.
"She has solidified our outfield out there as well as provide a hot bat," Radford said of Schaefer. "It seems every year she's played she's driven in some huge runs in some key situations."
"It's always good to work on your offense," said Schaefer, who also looked at George Mason University (Va.) and Washington College, "and I'm sure at Shepherd I'll [work just as much]."
She later was named to the All-County first team as a utility player as well as a spot on the All-SMAC second team.
Schaefer said she wanted to branch out somewhat when she got to high school so she played lacrosse her freshman year.
"I don't regret playing lacrosse because it made me appreciate softball all that much more," said Schaefer, who had played softball all of her life up to that point. "[Lacrosse] was fun, but it wasn't as competitive as I wanted it to be."
"Tayler came to us as [a] sophomore and she's just so athletic," Radford said of the senior, who is also on Northern's varsity field hockey and swim teams.
Following two older sisters onto the Patriots' playing field meant Orlandi had to step into some big cleats. And she did so admirably.
Last season, the catcher started 20 games and batted .228 with 13 hits, including two doubles. She also scored eight runs and drove in two runs.
"You sometimes worry about the youngest not having the drive or the desire, but Elissa has proved [she has it] all along," Radford said. "She clearly has worked extremely hard and her leadership skills have improved immensely. She's gone from a na‘ve young freshman to a mature young lady who has had a lot of responsibility behind the plate this year."
Both players agreed that having each other to lean on — Orlandi also can lean on sister Cammie, a senior infielder at Shepherd — for support will mean a lot.
"Yeah, absolutely [it's a bonus she's going] because it's always good knowing someone [at college]," Schaefer said. "And who better to play four more years of softball with than your best friend?"
"I've been best friends with Tayler forever, so it'll be so much fun just to spend time with her," Orlandi said. "I'm very excited because I'll be much more comfortable and once I'm comfortable I'll play better obviously."
Radford added, "And they're such good friends, so when you go away to college it's nice to have somebody you know and can fall back on. They'll be like a sister there for each of them. I think it's nice for both of them."
"I feel like I work really hard and am always practicing to get better," Schaefer said.
"I'm very excited because both my sisters play in college, so it's going to be a great experience," Orlandi said. "I just think being comfortable and being able to open up to the team. And having confidence in myself that I can play at this level will be a big part of that, too. It's a whole new level for me, so I'll see where it takes me."
Orlandi will have Cammie for support, but the elder sister has definitely set a benchmark for her younger sibling. In her first season at Shepherd, Cammie set a program record by starting all 55 games as a freshman.
"We're very competitive-natured," Elissa said. "Coming in as a freshman I guess I have to compete for that, so it will make me work harder and push harder. I'll definitely work hard to compete with that since it's such a great accomplishment — and to try to better it, of course."