Three-Time Game MVP Chernich Proves the North Pole is no Obstacle
By Tom Mauldin 8/24/2021
In 2019, Nadia Chernich traveled 100,000 miles to play softball and baseball. She played on the east and west coasts. She played in Texas. New York, Arizona, California, Utah, Maryland … the Northwest, the Northeast.
Chernich has been named a Team USA All-American multiple times (2018-2019-2020-2021) and has been profiled by MLB. She was part of back-to-back world championships playing against South Korea, Australia, Japan, Mexico and Canada in girls baseball.
Chernich played both varsity baseball and softball last year and her teams recorded state tournament successes. She also plays tennis, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, track and field, runs cross country and competes in Nordic Skiing.
Most recently at the Fastpitch Northwest College Exposure Tournament in Chehalis (WA) she led her team to the Underclass championship and was named Most Valuable Player in three of her team’s five games.
Chernich completed her freshman year in high school with a 4,0 grade point average. As an eighth grader, she recorded a 24 on her first ACT test.
All the aforementioned is impressive for any 15-year-old student athlete. Making Chernich’s accomplishments even more amazing is that she lives in North Pole, Alaska, a small community four miles east of Fairbanks.
Whoa … back up the story for a second. North Pole? Where the motto is ‘where the spirit of Christmas lives year round.’
Yes. Fast forward again. Santa does live in Chernich’s hometown, in the Santa Claus house where children's letters are received from around the world and answered during the Christmas holidays. The city has candy cane-striped street lights lining Santa Claus Lane and St. Nicholas Drive, not to mention a 45-foot-tall Santa welcoming visitors.
Yes, there are reindeer in Santa’s corral.
Take a deeper look at North Pole:
• In winter, sunlight is around three hours a day;
• in summer, there’s midnight sun with less than three hours of darkness;
• Summertime highs rarely top 70;
• Wintertime highs rarely reach double digits;
• The record low in North Pole is 60 below.
When many are asked about Alaska, they think about glaciers and icebergs. And, yes, Santa and North Pole.
“It gets challenging at times,” said Chernich, who dreams of playing college softball. “But I never get tired … I just run out of time. Playing sports and school are fun for me.”
A typical mid-winter day when light is limited, Chernich’s indoor workouts include “a lot of open gyms … an hour for baseball, then softball, followed by basketball and volleyball. With a cross country race to follow.
“Most workouts start at 6 a.m.,” said Chernich, the daughter of Dr. Joseph and Dr. Bethany Chernich. “It’s a small school and everyone understands we are crossover athletes.”
She noted that her school’s primary sports are hockey and basketball and when daylight is short, she spends a lot of time in the weight room and on the batting tee.
“But honestly, when I think about my schedule and sports I have no idea how we do it. It’s insanity to me that my parents can do what they do and then do it again the next day. But I like school and I like sports. My friends think it’s crazy.”
This perhaps explains her motto: A loss is worth a book, a win is worth a page.
As extreme as it may seem to some, Chernich’s hard work is paying off. Her best home to first time is 2.78, her top exit speed is 72 mph and her overhand throw is 66. Like her three younger siblings (Anya, Lev and Ki), she bats left and throws right. She’s known for her power. And her intensity is nearing legendary status with or without the northern lights.
Joseph Chernich, who doubles as her father and varsity baseball coach, simply says, “She takes practice seriously and prepares for game situations intensely. Nadia works hard in the weight room to be stronger and faster every year. She takes feedback on her weaknesses and works to get better.
“Nadia is an athlete who loves the mental game and intensity of softball. She performs in clutch situations and has confidence in herself to get a hit or make a play. She is a great teammate who is supportive and offers constructive advice while leading with the example of hustle and ultimate effort.
“Nobody questions Nadia's toughness or passion for the game,” he adds.
The coach shared that “last December, Nadia was playing centerfield at a tournament in Vero Beach (Fla.) and dove and made a catch. Unfortunately, the second baseman also kept backtracking and collided with Nadia's face. Blood dripping down her face, she was smiling that she made a double play. She ended up in the ER for a few hours and came out with 15 stitches. The next morning she was back for the championship game.”
Chernich says she plans to play baseball as long as can, at least through high school, then play college softball.. She began playing softball just two years ago.
“Baseball is the more competitive sport (than softball) at our school, so I would prefer it,” said Chernich, who was only one of two freshman on the varsity baseball team that placed fourth at state.
Between softball and baseball, Chernich said she had played 90 games this season, but quickly added the diamond “season is far from over.”
“I am coming to Seattle this weekend for an event hosted by MLB for the top girls baseball players as they select the national team,” said Chernich, who one day hopes to be a Major League umpire. “Earlier this year, I played on my high school varsity team as catcher where we won the conference and placed fourth at the state tournament. Then I played on the American Legion team through the summer and we placed third at the State Tournament at the end of July.
She said the highlight was going to Maryland for the national girls baseball tournament and beating teams from Florida, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. to claim a repeat championship.
“My team has been together for five years and has girls from seven different states so it is always a blast to see them again and play great baseball,” said Chernich.
Chernich’s season began in January when she playing at an All-American softball tournament in Florida. She was in Texas two weeks later.
Though she’s played 10 sports to date, Chernich says baseball and softball are her favorites.
“They’re my favorite because I love the games themselves,” she said. “Yes, they are different games, though they seem very similar to the outward eye … but the game is just fun. I don’t really know how else to explain America’s game: it’s just fun to play.”
Chernich has learned a lot through her many days of competition. She shared her “most forgettable” moment in baseball was when she was pitching 10U and the other team heckled her.
“But I have turned it into a positive experience,” she said. “It drives me to be the best I can. And is another reason I still play baseball.”
She’s quick to add that softball and baseball have provided her with a lot of memorable moments.
“One of my favorites was last year in the softball state tournament, extra innings, two outs, bases loaded and we were the home team. We needed one run to tie, I was up and hit a walk-off grand slam,” said Chernich. “That game took us to the championship where we ended up getting second after a super-rainy IF (win or lose) game where I hit another home run. Even though we didn’t win, it was still crazy to me that I did that.”
After college softball, her goal is to play on the USA National Baseball Team.
The Chernich family knows the challenges they face with their location. But there is no substitute for intensity and drive.
Joseph Chernich points out that “Nadia has always wanted to play to win. In T-ball at four-years old, she was the kid running around the field tagging everyone out. Early on in basketball, we would tell her it is not intended to be a shutout sport but she proved us wrong several times.”
Chernich said she would likely give up basketball this year to focus on her diamond sports commitments. She noted that her travel requirements for basketball require planes, boats and buses due to distance between other Alaska schools.
“I am going to make the commitment to softball this winter and don’t won’t to miss tournaments and recruitment camps,” she said. “I am going to Florida for a showcase for high-academic schools in November. Then I will play in Georgia for a week in late November.”
Her priority is now determining what schools to visit in December and January as she gets invited to different campuses.
“It was really great to attend a camp in Utah for a few days right after the Fastpitch NW Championships and get feedback from the coaching staff there. My goal is to have fun with the process and find the place that feels right.”
With her drive, there’s probably not an Alaskan iceberg big enough to slow Chernich.