During one of Briana and Kylee Perez’s first experiences with softball, then-11-year-old Kylee Perez threw the ball right at then-8-year-old Briana Perez’s face, knocking out a tooth in the process.
It might have seemed unlikely at the time, but there was a dream in the Perez family that one day, the two sisters would play on the same team.
After years of waiting, freshman infielder Briana Perez, the No. 1 recruit in her freshman class, isn’t just joining a UCLA softball team that earned a No. 5 preseason ranking. She’s also getting a chance to play alongside her big sister.
Softball wasn’t the only sport that the Perez sisters were interested in growing up. Briana and Kylee Perez played basketball and soccer, too.
Their parents, Sonja and Jeff Perez, introduced them to all three sports, but as their Little League careers came to an end, club sports became the next step in their careers, and that meant it was time to focus on one sport.
“Sonja and I sat with Kylee and told her, ‘you have three weeks to make a decision,’” Jeff Perez said. “We didn’t care what sport she picked. … She was excelling in all three. She was asking a lot of questions about each sport and at the end of the day she said, ‘Okay, I’m gonna play softball.’”
Kylee Perez was the first to make that decision. A few years later, Briana Perez went through the same process.
“We did the same thing for Briana because she was excelling really well in soccer and we told her same thing: ‘It’s your choice,’” Jeff Perez said. “We gave her some time to really think about it, and she chose softball also.”
Once the decisions were made, Kylee and Briana Perez started to focus on the sport and obsess about improving their performances. Jeff Perez said Kylee Perez was always a student of the game and would never settle when it came to bettering herself.
“They would be outside in December and January when it’s pouring down rain, and I would have to go in the garage with tennis balls and throw (Kylee Perez) 500 backhands,” Jeff Perez said. “We would be there for hours … and my wife and I would just shake our heads. She was so invested in what she was doing.”
While Kylee Perez took backhand after backhand, her little sister was right there watching her, and eventually made her way into the at-home practice session.
“I think (Briana Perez) automatically learned that work ethic too, because she wanted to stand next to her and do the same thing,” Jeff Perez said. “When they come home for the holidays we have to go hit the field … and as a dad you’re excited about that.”
Briana Perez looked at other Pac-12 schools like Oregon and Arizona, schools that finished last season with national rankings of No. 4 and No. 9, respectively.
Although she got offers from the two schools, she still dreamed of playing with her older sister.
“I kind of knew what I wanted to do, watching (Kylee Perez) go through the recruiting process,” Briana Perez said. “Obviously she played a role in my process.”
During Briana Perez’s recruitment, Kylee Perez said she tried not to influence her sister’s decision at all.
“I wanted her to make the decision on her own,” Kylee Perez said. “Obviously, I gave her the benefits of this school and how everything is run. I think she just made her own choice and knew that this was the right place to be.”
Briana Perez’s recruiting process was nearly identical to Kylee Perez’s. Because of how overwhelming the process was for both of his daughters, Jeff brought out the whiteboard to keep everything visual and slow down the process.
“I had the girls list their top-five schools, and then in the left-hand column were 12 items of what they wanted in a school,” Jeff Perez said. “They graded every school No. 1 through No. 5 and all the way from, ‘Does this school have your academic requirements?’ to the campus, the coaches, the recruits coming in and weather.”
Briana Perez will make her college debut in less than two weeks, and Kylee Perez said she thinks her younger sister will make an immediate impact.
“I always think that she’s better than me,” Kylee Perez said. “She is another player on the team that just keeps it light and leads through example.”
Kylee Perez herself recorded a prolific junior-year season in which she was tabbed All-Pac-12 Conference First Team, All-Pac-12 Defensive Team and National Fastpitch Coaching Association All-West Region First Team.
She posted a .408 batting average with 86 hits last year – leading the Bruins in both categories and finishing the year with the fourth-best batting average and the most hits in the Pac-12.
This will be the only year that both sisters will get to play in a UCLA uniform.
“I think our team is very strong this year and we all have a very strong belief that we’re going to win (a national title),” Kylee Perez said.
For the Perez family, their long-awaited dream will become a reality starting Feb. 9 when UCLA softball opens its season against Maryland at Easton Stadium.
“Sonja and I, we’ve been talking about this moment for years that someday, they could play together one more year on the big stage, and in this moment right now, it’s pretty amazing,” Jeff Perez said. “We’ll see how everything plays out, but for right now, they’re just having a blast together. It’s been an amazing journey for the whole family.”