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When Sydney Dwyer steps into the batter's box for the first time Wednesday afternoon at Goodman Diamond, don't be surprised if she peeks back and flashes a smile or tells a joke to the Wisconsin catcher. 

More than likely, the catcher will reciprocate.

The Badger backstop happens to be one of Dwyer's closest friends growing up and former Pleasant Valley teammate, Chloe Miller. 

"There might be some chirping here and there," Miller admitted. 

Unless Minnesota and Wisconsin clash in the Big Ten tournament next month, the doubleheader in Madison likely marks the final time Dwyer and Miller will be on the same diamond competing. 

It has been a ride that started more than a dozen years ago in the Quad-Cities.

After all-state careers at PV, they have blossomed into successful Division I softball players at rival conference schools.

"It always is different when we play Wisconsin," Dwyer said, "especially since her and I have been teammates for so long. It is a little bittersweet knowing this is probably the last time. 

"I'm sure there will be smiles and jokes but all in good fun."

Miller, recently named a finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, has her named sprinkled throughout Wisconsin's record book.

The senior came into Sunday leading the Big Ten in batting average (.454), on-base percentage (.556) and slugging percentage (.852) and among the top five in hits (49), runs (40), doubles (12), RBI (40) and total bases (92). 

"It is one of those things that it is my last year playing and a lot of work has been put into this point," Miller said. "I'm just having fun and letting it pay off.

"I can't say enough about our new hitting coach (Danielle Zymkowitz). She has done tremendous things for our team, and it's really helped me be confident in my swing and at the plate."

Miller has started every game of her career at Wisconsin.

She's already the program's all-time leader in RBI (173) and needs two more home runs and three doubles to set Wisconsin's new benchmark in those categories.

Wisconsin made the NCAA Tournament in Miller's freshman season but was 21-31 and 28-24-1 the past two seasons. The Badgers went into Sunday's series finale against Purdue 26-8 and just outside the Top 25.

"The team camaraderie is really high," Miller said. "It's hard to describe, but it is just more fun, happier and lighter. It reminds some of us the love for softball that may have dipped in those rough years is back on track."

Miller caught her freshman and sophomore seasons. She spent her junior year in the outfield before moving back behind the plate again this spring. 

Those outside Madison have started to take notice. She earned Big Ten player of the week and National Fastpitch Coaches Association Player of the Week accolades earlier this spring. 

The biggest honor came last week, named as one of 34 players in the running for national player of the year.

"To see my name next to the top 30-some players in the country kind of came as a shock," Miller said. "I've been a pretty average player through college, but it is definitely a cool feeling to see other people take note.

"If the season continues to go well, you never know what can happen."

Dwyer played sparingly as a freshman in 2015, but has raised her average more than 100 points since last year to .408 this spring. She has cranked eight home runs and ranks among the nation's RBI leaders with 55. 

"It was a difficult adjustment from high school," she said. "Everything is a little quicker — the plays on the infield, the baserunning, the pitching. It took a year or two to get used to it."

She's had to get acclimated to a new position as well. After playing on the left side of the infield most of her softball career, Dwyer has moved to first base. 

Asked if she had ever played that position before this season, she said: "Maybe for an inning in like 10U softball."

With the exception of the pitchers, Dwyer noted every returning player has switched spots.

"I'm learning things I've never had to learn," Dwyer recalled. "It changes my angle of the game. I'm learning which balls I can get to, how much I need to get in on bunts and pick throws at first base."

The sixth spot in the lineup seems to suit her well. With Minnesota's firepower in the middle of the order, Dwyer has had ample opportunities to hit with runners on base.

"I like having the beginning of the game to get a glimpse of what the pitcher is throwing and what adjustments I need to make," she said. 

Minnesota is 37-3, leads the Big Ten with a 10-1 record going into Sunday and ranked sixth in the nation. 

The Gophers have done it with a mixture of experience and youth. They had nine returning players and nine newcomers on this year's roster. One of the freshmen is Iowa's all-time home run leader, Kendyl Lindaman of Ankeny Centennial. 

Lindaman is batting .402 and has blasted 14 homers.

"It was a little scary coming into it, but we met the newcomers in the fall and bonded really well," Dwyer said. "To have so many road games at the beginning of the season — and we have a different roommate every week — we got a chance to bond with each of them."

While Dwyer has another season to go, Miller is in the final hours of her career. She runs out of eligibility this spring but still has another year of school to complete her undergraduate degree.

The hope is attend physical therapy school. If that plan doesn't work, Miller wants to go more into strength and conditioning or high performance.

"It's awesome to see her going out with a bang in her senior year," Dwyer said.

Miller and Dwyer exchange occasional texts during the season.

They still have a great deal of admiration for each other. 

"She's someone I wouldn't be here without and she probably can say the same thing about me," Miller said. "I miss being on the same team with her because we had such a connection on the field. 

"The fact I get to play against her every year has been a cool experience."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.