Yelm High School : All-Conference Shortstop Tessa Matthews

She admits her last name – Matthews – is both a blessing and a burden.

Because of what her older brothers and older sister did in sports, Tessa Matthews needed no introduction at her first fastpitch practice at Yelm High School two years ago as a freshman.

She’s a legacy in cleats.

When it comes to scooping grounders and belting singles, Matthews is supposed to be good because her brothers and sister were all-league good.

Her oldest brother, Travis, played junior college baseball after starring at Yelm.  Jerod, the next oldest Matthews, was the Tampa Bay Rays’ 21st-round draft pick after his senior year in 2001. He pitched six years in the minors before shoulder surgery abruptly ended his career just as he was about to get called up to the major leagues.

Alicia, Tessa’s only sister, was a catcher for the Washington Huskies, starting on a national championship team her senior year in 2009.

And now, Tessa, who was an all-conference shortstop last season as a sophomore, is expected to continue the Matthew’s tradition. She’s not disappointed, batting a team-leading .443.

“Expectations are sometimes hard to live up to,” Tessa said. “But my sister and I are different players. We play different positions. I have my own personality, my own style. But it also pushes me, knowing that I want to do it like she did. I want to play at the highest level possible.”

From the days Alicia and Tessa first started playing T-Ball as little kids, it’s been a family affair. Their mom, Patricia, got involved in coaching because she wanted to stay involved with her kids.

“I went to a couple of coaching clinics and followed them through high school,” Patricia said. “It’s been really special.”

Both of Tessa’s parents have sports genes. Patricia ran track and was a cheerleader at Yelm High in the late 1970s. Four of her six brothers went on to wrestle at a Pac-10 school, including the UW. Rod briefly played baseball in college before an injury cut his dream short. Several of his classmates at Davis High School in Yakima went on to play pro baseball, including Todd Stottlemyre.

“My brother played at Lewis-Clark State College and went to the World Series,” Rod said. “I guess the love of baseball came from me.”

Rod is now working with Stottlemyre and coordinating Fastpitch Northwest, which works with the top high school players in Washington and Oregon.

“Tessa has the same desire as her sister did to play at a D-I school,” Patricia said. “But we tell her whatever program she gets involved with, she’ll be sold on it.”

Patricia home schooled all of her children up to ninth grade when they went into high school All along, they played in the sport of the season, going from football or volleyball to basketball to baseball or fastpitch.

Patricia is again coaching fastpitch with the high school varsity, but she works with the outfielders, not the infielders.

“We figured it would be better if someone else worked with in the infield,” Patricia said. “But I’m there for the games and the practices. I really love it.”

Like everyone else, Tessa Matthews celebrated when Washington won its first national fastpitch title two years ago. She was in the stands cheering with her family and Husky fans when her sister, Alicia, as a starting catcher for the Washington Huskies, won a national NCAA championship.

But besides celebrating, Tessa, then an eighth grader, also set an ambitious goal.

“I decided I wanted to play Division-I softball,” Tessa said. “It was like instantly that was what I wanted to do.”

It was both a moment to celebrate and to reflect.

“Since that day, it’s been what she’s wanted to do,” Rod said. “That had a huge impact on her commitment, watching her sister play in the World Series. She’s worked hard.”

And that’s not the exaggeration of a proud dad talking. Tessa plays fastpitch year around, practicing at least once a week even during volleyball and basketball seasons. This week she’s again pulling double duty, playing in a tournament with Fastpitch Northwest and practicing with the Northwest Sidewinders, a local summer select fastpitch team. A couple of days this week, she played in two games then headed to practice with her Sidewinders team in Spanaway, giving her about five hours on the softball field.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it,” Tessa said.

But Tessa’s dream chasing of playing college fastpitch is her own, not her parent’s.

“They’re not pushing. They’re encouraging,” Tessa said. “All of us have loved having them coach us. It’s been a good experience.”

On Saturday, she’ll head with her Sidewinder team to California to play in a weeklong national championship tournament. Earlier this summer, she played with her team in tournaments at Indiana and Colorado, qualifying for nationals.

She’s received a couple of recruiting letters already, including an introductory note from the school of her dream – the UW. Come September, Tessa is hoping the recruiting mail increases from a trickle to a flood. It’s then that she’ll be a junior and eligible for recruiting.

Tessa’s parents are sensitive to her being the younger sister of siblings who were successful athletes. But both parents thought that success was more positive than negative.

“She sees her brothers and sister do it and that puts it in her mind that she can do it, too,” Rod said. “It’s not if I can do it. It’s a reality. It’s not impossible.”

But all the goal setting and hard work hasn’t blurred one objective Rod and Patricia have emphasized since their kids were little – be good sports.

“You know, I’ve coached all the Matthews,” said Russ Riches, Yelm’s varsity head basketball coach and an assistant fastpitch coach. “They’re all good athletes. They’ve all shown athletic talent. But I’ve got to say they’re better people. They’re all just great kids. I’d say their character is probably the most impressive thing about all of them. They’re just great people.”

So, the Matthews’ name means something more than “good athlete.” Now, that’s pressure.

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