BERKELEY In the same half-inning, Jolene Henderson can be full of cheer or full of fury.
Henderson, Cal's softball ace from Sheldon High School, stalks the pitcher's circle, sizing up her opponent, her brown ponytail and blue-and-gold ribbons dancing in the Strawberry Canyon breeze. The 20-year-old junior throws blazing fastballs and befuddling changeups before glaring at the retired batters. Then she high-fives and grins with her teammates.
Over at third base is her sister, Danielle Henderson, two years younger, who matches her charm and intensity. With a scowl, Danielle ropes extra-base hits for the No. 1 team in the country.
The Henderson sisters are helping make the Bears a top contender for a national championship.
"Don't let the beautiful ribbons fool you," Bears coach Diane Ninemire said. "The Hendersons are great competitors. What separates Jolene is her strong will. She's pretty unstoppable. Danielle is just as proud and driven."
Jolene is 30-1 with a 1.13 ERA and 246 strikeouts after leading the Bears to a 4-2 victory over No. 2 Arizona State on Thursday in the first game of a three-game series to end the regular season. Danielle, a freshman, has 14 home runs and 41 RBIs for the 50-3 Bears (Pacific-12 Conference champions at 21-2). The NCAA regionals begin Friday.
The Henderson sisters grew up playing softball, winning championships in summer travel ball and at Sheldon. Now they can hardly contain their joy at doing it again on scholarship in Berkeley.
"I love to go at a batter, challenge them with pitches," Jolene said. "My favorite thing to do is strike someone out and walk off the field just as the pitch gets there, but that's not in a bad way. It's just competition.
"And I will stare down a player, a look, and then look at my teammates and smile and be silly. It's part of the game."
"I love when Jolene strikes a batter out with a changeup and the look on their face," Danielle said. "My sister has fun out here, but she gets so heated, too. We all do."
Jolene wears jersey No. 54 in honor of her father, Joe, whom she emulates. Joe Henderson wore jersey No. 54 when he played on the offensive line at Burbank High School in the early 1980s and at Idaho State. Jolene said the braids and cheery persona come from her mother, Mickey. Joe and Mickey Henderson have become fixtures at Cal's cozy Levine-Fricke Field.
Joe Henderson didn't just introduce his daughters to softball, he brought it to them. Eleven years ago, Joe installed a regulation diamond with 200-foot fences and a pond in deep right field in their Elk Grove backyard. And Henderson coached his daughters on age-group summer All-Star teams.
As an 8-year-old, Jolene initially was so uneasy with softball that she occasionally would misdirect pitches well over the catcher. She was distracted, chasing butterflies and admiring flowers. Jolene eventually grew to appreciate the sport, then crave it.
The sisters spent hours practicing in the backyard.
"The girls had a great time back there, and it's where they really learned how to play," Joe said after a recent victory over UCLA.
Jolene was so determined to help the Bears last season that she pitched with a stress fracture in her hip. Despite pitching in constant pain, she won 40 games, struck out 333 batters in the same number of inningsand was named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and an All-American. After the 2011 season, she took the summer and winter off to heal.
"It was painful to pitch, and I was thinking, 'I'm 19, not 90, so what's with this stress fracture?,' " Jolene said. "But the team needed me. I was on crutches, then I'd play. I needed to play. Taking the time off (after the season) killed me the most boring time of my life. I did hot yoga, visual empowerment, and now I've never felt better."
Jolene said her highlight this season came in the opener, a 13-5 victory over Tennessee, during which Danielle hit her first collegiate homer.
"It was Danielle's first college game, and we're on the same field together," Jolene said. "And anytime my sister gets a hit or a home run, that's my favorite. I just had to go high-five her."