A year ago, sisters Jolene and Danielle Henderson traveled to the Women's College World Series.
Jolene Henderson, then a sophomore pitcher at Cal, flew with her teammates to Oklahoma City. Little sister Danielle, still in high school, drove 28 straight hours from her home in Elk Grove with her brother, mom and a family friend.
If the siblings make it back to college softball's ultimate event this season, they will do so together, as teammates. Jolene, now a junior, was voted Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year this week for the second straight year. Third baseman Danielle earned a spot on the league's all-freshman team.
The trek to the CWS begins Friday at 7 p.m. when the top-seeded Golden Bears (50-4) take on Iona (35-24) at Levine-Fricke Field above Memorial Stadium in the opening game of the Berkeley regional of the NCAA tournament.
The four-team, double-elimination regional runs through Sunday. If Cal prevails, it will host the winner of the Seattle regional May 25-26 in a best-of-three series with a berth in the World Series at stake.
Danielle Henderson called it "amazing" to watch her big sister play last year in the College World Series, even though the Bears bowed out after losing two of three games. "I remember thinking, 'We're going to be here next year.' We're still working to be there."
The Hendersons have done their part. Jolene Henderson is 30-2 with a 1.22 earned run average. She has 249 strikeouts against 53 walks in 2112/3 innings, and opponents are batting .191 against her.
Danielle is hitting .299 with 14 home runs and just two errors in 53 starts at third base.
Because they are two years apart, the sisters did not play together until they were teenagers. Then they joined forces at Sheldon High and on the Lady Magic traveling team that also featured future Cal teammates Cheyenne Cordes and Lindsey Ziegenhirt. The traveling team was coached by their father, Joe Henderson.
The Lady Magic practiced on the full-size field the Hendersons built on their five-acre property at the edge of town, and in 2008 won the 16-and-under ASA national title.
The sisters also discovered how much they enjoyed each other's company as teammates.
"I picked my college, and that's pretty much the only place she looked," Jolene Henderson said. "Other schools looked at her, but she was like, 'No.' "
"They're very close," Cal coach Diane Ninemire said. "In between pitches, Danielle will go over and say something to Jolene. There's a very loving chemistry there."
Jolene would have appreciated her sister's presence last season when she developed a stress fracture in her hip at midseason. The Bears already were playing without pitcher/slugger Val Arioto, who missed the 2011 campaign with an ankle injury, so Henderson shouldered all the pitching responsibilities.
Henderson laughs at the recollection of people asking if she was a candidate for hip replacement and said shutting down for the season wasn't an option she considered.
"She wasn't going to stop pitching," said Ninemire, who held Henderson out of practice, allowing her to throw only on game days. "It's incredible that someone could physically do what she did last year and do it at such a high level."
Jolene Henderson wound up 40-10 in 2011, with the light-hitting Bears scoring a total of 15 runs in her losses. Even so, the team reached the World Series, silencing doubters in what Henderson called a rebuilding year.
"That just drove us into this year," Jolene said. "You thought we couldn't last year, and we did. This year, we have everyone, plus more."
Including her little sister.