On any type of team sport, players can grow incredibly close over time. However, the Loyola women’s soccer team is partially bonded by blood too. Although they are four years apart, the team has two sets of twins in seniors Gopika and Radhika Patel and first-years Riley and Ashley Atkinson.
While the team isn’t unfamiliar with the concept of having two sets of twins on the team — former Ramblers Sienna and Savannah Cruz just graduated in May — adding the 18-year-old Atkinson sisters along with the Patel sisters allows for a new kind of dynamic. Formerly, the Patels were learning from the Cruz sisters. Now it’s their turn to pass on their knowledge.
According to Radhika, their familial bond helps them improve on the field. Their positions work closely together since Radhika is a goalkeeper and Gopika is a defender.
“We can kind of use each other,” Gopika said. “I could shoot on [Radhika] and then she could help work on stuff in the back like communication. [Radhika] can tell me what I need to work on and I can tell her what she needs to work on because our positions are very interrelated.”
Gopika also said the Atkinsons can help each other as they adjust to college play.
“They get more time with each other because they are both field players.” Gopika said. “I think understanding that [the Atkinsons] have each other and to use each other because as first-years it’s hard to adapt and it’s nice they get to go through it together.”
The Atkinsons share more than just the same genes. They also share the same injury – in high school they both tore their ACL.
Ashley said having her sister Riley rehab her ACL first helped her recover mentally from such a debilitating injury. Riley tore her ACL sophomore year of high school, while Ashley endured the injury junior year.
“I had someone who pushed me harder than I pushed myself,” Ashley said. “But she was always there telling me what to expect, when big things were coming up, when to focus on the small stuff. So, I never had a chance to slack off or become lazy because she was always there basically telling me the future.”
The Atkinsons seemed excited to be working with and learning from the Patels on and off the field. Riley said the Patels have given invaluable information and that has added to the twin-twin dynamic.
“They have stepped up, approached Ashley and I and said expect this, this and this,” said Riley. “Coaches like when you do this, definitely put names on your passes [Call out who you are passing the ball to]. They are very helpful and not shy.”
Ashley said the Patels have been positive mentors for her and Riley as first-years and as twins, helping them adapt to the collegiate athletic life.
“I think there is a different type of connection between us because we are twins,” Ashley said. “[The Patels] told us,’ If there is any way to tell you two apart let us know because [the coaches] still get [the Patels] confused and they are seniors.’ It makes it easier on everyone else having a set of first-year twins and senior twins because they have gone through it before.”
Loyola women’s soccer head coach Barry Bimbi said it’s too early to draw a comparison between the two sets of twins and it’s especially hard to draw a comparison since the Atkinsons are both field players while Radhika is in goal and Gopika plays on the field.
At the end of the day, Bimbi said it’s all about the team as a family.
“When any twins get integrated into the team, the chemistry takes over and everyone sees what sisterhood looks like,” Bimbi said.