Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Twin Celebrations

Janine and Rochelle Willis look completely alike, even by identical twin standards.

All identical twins are, well, identical. For the most part. There's always something that gives one away or the other.

In the case of the Willis twins? No way. They look more alike than any two identical twins TigerBlog has ever seen. 

TigerBlog couldn't tell them apart nine years ago, when they were defenders on the Princeton women's soccer team. And he certainly hadn't gotten any closer to figuring out who was who when he saw the two of them at Roberts Stadium Saturday.

Actually, he couldn't tell which Willis was which when he was putting together the video for the Princeton soccer NCAA Final Four celebration, which was what brought the Willis twins to the soccer doubleheader against Columbia.

The video was part of the dinner that followed the two games, and it was in honor of the program's two NCAA Final Four teams - the 1993 men and the 2004 women.

As TB was putting the video together, he had some pretty good clips of the women's team bowling, eating in a hotel, getting ready for their Final Four game, that sort of stuff. And the twins were featured prominently.

Except he didn't know which was which. So he had to make three small videos of the clips he had and then ask which Willis it was.

And so it was that shortly before halftime TB was hugged by one Willis and then the other, and he has no idea which one was which.

TB isn't much of a hugger. MotherBlog? Now there was a hugger. All 5' 3" of her. She could hug with the best of them.

As for TB, he's much happier standing off to the side.

This past Saturday wasn't a day for that.

Almost every member of the 2004 women's team came back nine years after they stampeded through the Ivy League, into the national Top 10 and all the way to the Final Four in Cary, N.C. Now they were back, in their late 20s and early 30s, some of them married and mothers themselves, all of them with a lifetime bond with each other that appears a decade later as unbreakable as it was the night they beat Washington to reach the Final Four.

The 1993 men's team was back as well.

It was 11 years earlier that the men's team knocked off Columbia, Penn State and Hartwick to get to the Final Four. Princeton had gone 6-1-0 in the Ivy League in 1993, with the loss to Columbia. There was also a loss to Hartwick in the regular season.

The three NCAA tournament wins that year were by a combined 10-2, as the Tigers avenged two of their losses along the way.

TigerBlog was the OAC contact for the 2004 women's team, and he covered the 1993 men's team's three NCAA wins while at the newspaper. He knew the women's players well, recognized each of them - not that it was that hard to do, since they don't look any older than when they played.

The men are now in their late 30s and early 40s. TB didn't know them nearly as well, but he recognized a few faces and most of the names.

Like the women, they had done something extraordinary together, and like the women, it was obvious that the men had something special that will never go away.

Princeton is one of 11 schools to have reached the NCAA Final Four in both men's and women's soccer in the last 20 years. The men are the most recent Ivy school to reach the Final Four, and the women are the only Ivy school ever to do so, as well as the only Ivy school to reach the Final Four in a 64-team NCAA bracket.

Oh, and the other 10 schools? It's: North Carolina, UMass, Santa Clara, Stanford, SMU, Duke, UConn, Portland, Ohio State and Wake Forest.

That's pretty good company.

TB's job Saturday was to help coordinate the halftime celebrations. As he did so, it dawned on him that he had been at all seven NCAA tournament wins between the two teams, and he couldn't help but wonder how many others in attendance had also been at all seven.

When the women's ceremony was over, the team posed for pictures off to the side. They stood together, and then there was picture of each class - which they called "seniors," "juniors," "sophomores" and "freshmen," as if they will hold those designations forever when they are together.

As TB did the video for the dinner, he was taken back to both team's biggest moments. He also noticed that the writer for the 1993 men's soccer team for the Daily Princetonian was none other than Grant Wahl, now among the top soccer writers in the world.

Mostly he thought back to Lourie-Love Field, the place that Roberts Stadium replaced. Myslik Field, the Roberts Stadium game field, is on the same spot that used to be Lourie-Love, except that Roberts Stadium has actual concrete, seats with backs, a concourse, bathrooms and concession stands.

What TB remembered most was three women's games. First, there was the win over Harvard, when Emily Behncke tied it with about 40 seconds left in regulation, Emily Vogelzang kept it going with a save on a breakaway in OT and then Esmeralda Negron won it.

Then there was the Sweet 16 win over Boston College, on a pair of Behncke goals. And then there was the win over Washington, with an early goal by Behncke and then, after U-W tied it, goals in the second half by Negron and Kristina Fontanez to win it.

TB saw how the crowd size built at Lourie-Love one game to the next to the next, until more than 2,500 jammed into the place for the Washington game. It was the momentum from that run that led to the construction of Roberts Stadium.

Unlike its replacement, Lourie-Love wasn't exactly a palace. It had rickety wooden stands - and that was it.

But it was a great place to watch a game, especially in the falls of 1993 and 2004, when two groups of Princeton soccer players put together something unbelievably special.

They came back Saturday to hug - and to celebrate and remember.

Celebrate, that is, their trips to the Final Four.

Remember, that is, the unbreakable, unforgettable, clearly obvious connection that they will have forever.

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