These photos provided by Tennessee's athletic department show Lady Vols sibling pitchers Ellen Renfroe, top, and Ivy Renfroe in action during the regular season (AP Photo)
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee softball pitchers Ivy Renfroe and Ellen Renfroe say they aren't motivated by sibling rivalry.
"I could see brothers being like that," Ivy Renfroe said, "but we never have."
The two sisters always were more interested in teaming up than squaring off. They're now hoping to lead Tennessee (47-10) to a second straight Women's College World Series berth, though a giant obstacle stands in their way.
Tennessee, the No. 7 national seed, hosts defending national champion and No. 10 seed Alabama (45-13) in a best-of-3 NCAA super regional beginning Friday. It's the type of scenario the Renfroe sisters often envisioned for themselves while growing up in Jackson, Tenn. Each sister committed to UT as a high school sophomore.
"We were always big Tennessee fans," Ellen Renfroe said. "There are probably several pictures of us in orange sitting around the house watching football games together as a family. We saw (NCAA Division I career wins and strikeouts leader) Monica Abbott throw in the World Series. We always thought it would be cool to put on the orange jersey, have Tennessee across your chest and play here for four years."
Although the Renfroe sisters aren't twins — Ivy is 14 months older than Ellen — their statistics are virtually identical.
Ivy Renfroe, a senior, is 19-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 136 1-3 innings. Ellen Renfroe, a junior, is 17-4 with a 1.80 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 163 innings. The sisters combined to throw 23 scoreless innings last week to help the Lady Vols win their regional tournament.
They've delivered similar results while relying on different approaches. Ivy is more of a power pitcher who can throw up to 68-70 mph. Ellen doesn't throw as hard, but she has a wide variety of pitches and relies more on movement.
Those varying styles complement each other well and have allowed the roles of the two sisters to change on any given weekend. Sometimes Ivy starts a series opener. Sometimes Ellen gets the call instead. It's not unusual for both sisters to pitch in the same game.
"Whichever one's hot," Tennessee coach Ralph Weekly said. "If we start a game with one, we plan to pitch the other the next game. (But) if one isn't on, we'll change and throw the other pitcher in there."
Pitching talent isn't all the sisters have in common. They're both 6 feet tall and share the same ideals as devout Christians. Weekly says the two pitchers also have similar personalities, though the sisters disagree with that assessment.
Ellen's "more one to talk or say something," Ivy said. "She's more outgoing, and I'm more reserved. Around family, I'm not (as shy)."
Weekly said the Renfroes' drive and will to win sets them apart from many other pitchers, yet the sisters say they never let their competitiveness affect their relationship.
They don't even have friendly competitions over which of them will win the most games or strike out the most batters.
"We both try to stay away from looking at stats," Ellen Renfroe said. "For me, if I start to evaluate my performance based on those stats, that makes it more about me and not about the team and about why I'm really out there."
Their mother, Emily Renfroe, says the lack of sibling rivalry has been evident ever since the sisters started playing softball in grade school.
"In high school and travel softball, they always supported each other and encouraged each other," Emily Renfroe said. "It never was 'I want to outdo you,' ever. I wondered what would happen when they got to college, but I think (their relationship) has gotten stronger. They've matured. They're little adults now. It's gotten stronger, that bond of wanting so bad for the other one to do well."
Ivy and Ellen Renfroe insist they aren't even the most competitive siblings in their family. They say that honor belongs to their younger sister, freshman reserve infielder Anna Renfroe.
"She's a go-getter," Ellen Renfroe said. "She's young right now and she's fun to watch play. She battles out there."
She apparently learned from her older sisters.
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