A twin is always there to catch you when you fall. But in this unique case, a twin is there to catch a pitch or fire one out.
Senior UCF softball players Jessica and Jamie Ujvari are identical twins and valuable assets to a competitive team that’s gone 20-10 this season, at one point earning 15 consecutive wins.
Growing up, the twins didn’t know which positions they wanted to play. Jamie, who now pitches for the Knights, said in recreational leagues she would catch for her sister when she pitched and vice versa.
“I realized I became natural at pitching, and Jessica became more natural at catching,” Jamie said of her sister who’s a catcher for UCF. “My mom mainly pushed us a lot. She did everything she could to get us where we are at today.”
At age 12, Jessica decided she wanted to catch for her sister, and Jamie decided she wanted to pitch to her sister. Thus, the pitcher-catcher duo was born, sparking a journey that would take them from Pensacola to their new home at UCF.
The twins both played on their high school softball team, and led Niceville High School team to the state championships their senior year. Despite a 1-0 loss, Jamie said the experience of competing at that level was incredible.
While the twins explored the option of playing at separate Division I schools, in the end, they decided to stick together.
“We decided that we played growing up together and we have that connection on and off the field and we pushed each other, so why not go to college together?” Jamie said. “We started looking at our options to be a package deal.”
Jamie and Jessica committed to playing at University of South Carolina Upstate as juniors in high school, and played for the Gamecocks for one year. However, it just wasn’t the right fit for the twins, who felt that a change was needed.
The allure of a successful UCF softball program coupled with a case of homesickness officially ended their career in South Carolina. Self-proclaimed Florida girls at heart, Jamie and Jessica jumped at the chance to move closer to home after receiving the release from their coach at USC Upstate.
“We really didn’t have a position for two of them. That was the difficult part,” head coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said.
Originally, Gillispie said she was looking at Jamie to come pitch for UCF. Once she found out Jessica was a catcher and also good at the plate, the program decided to take the twins as a package deal.
“It was nice because they are both in the starting lineup now,” Gillispie said. “They both stepped up and became key players for us.”
This season alone, Jessica is tied for most RBIs with 19 and boasts the second-most hits with 29.
Blasting a team-high four home runs out of the park, Jamie has spent the season striking out batters left and right, racking up 51 strikeouts. Allowing only 23 hits, seven runs and 15 walks, Jamie holds a 6-1 record with a team-best ERA sitting at 1.19.
Athleticism isn’t limited to the sisters, though, and seems to run in the Ujvari family. Their brothers Kevin and Don Malicki both played for the St. Bonaventure Division I basketball team, and their father served as a pitching mentor for Jamie.
“I grew up watching my brothers play sports, so I think it was really cool at a young age to see what it is like to play at that level,” Jessica said. “I knew if they could do it, I could do it, and I wanted to do it better.”
But Gillispie sees more than the ability to play hard within the sisters.
“[The twins are] always entertaining. They do complement each other very well — one being a pitcher, one being a catcher,” Gillispie said. “There are times they work really well in the bullpens together, and there are other times when we definitely separate them.”
There is an essence of competition there, but it doesn’t hinder the sisters on or off of the field.
“This year is a competition but in a good way,” Jamie said. “Jess wants the best for me, and I want the best for her, but yet we are still pushing each other on the field as well. It’s never a serious competition; we push each other and expect the most out of each other.”
But Jessica’s main competition growing up, she said, was not between her and her sister but rather between her and her a friend, current Chicago Cubs infielder Addison Russell.
“When we were kids, he would always win awards for hitting, and I would always win awards for pitching,” Jamie said. “That was the competition, not between me and Jessica.”
Aside from being sisters, twins and teammates, the girls are ultimately best friends.
“Outside of softball, we tell each other everything,” Jamie said. “We talk to each other about what our plans are in the future. Of course we are going to have a bond on the field no matter what, but off the field we are close as well.”
Both majoring in hospitality management, Jessica and Jamie hope to play softball professionally. From there, their ambitions diverge. Jessica would like to get into coaching and work toward a master’s degree, while Jamie plans on pursuing a career in restaurant or hotel management.
Gillispie hopes they both stay, playing one more year and then possibly going international.
“I think that with Jessica, she has a possibility of pro fast-pitch league,” Gillispie said. “The draft will be coming out when we are in Houston, and we will know if she is going to get picked up at that time.”
Jamie and Jessica have been inseparable their entire lives, but have come to the realization that after their last semester at UCF, they may have to go their separate ways.
“There might have to be some separation, but we just cherish the times that we have,” Jessica said. [We are] blessed to play a sport together that we love so much. We are soaking in every memory.”
In their free time, the twins enjoy relaxing, tanning and parasailing at the beach together.
“The coolest part about being a twin is just having someone there to go and talk to no matter what right away,” Jamie said. “I don’t have to rely on a friend or my mom to talk about personal stuff. Jessica is always right there — an open arm no matter what.”
Amanda Schoep is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.