Willis Twins Having a Wild Time This Summer In Preparing for Last Year With Tiger Soccer
The Willis twins, Rochelle and Janine, have been playing soccer together since they turned four in 1986.
While the identical twins from Ontario, Canada have risen to be All-Ivy defenders for the Princeton University women's soccer team, they haven’t had a soccer experience like they are having this summer.
Playing for the New Jersey Wildcats in the W-League, the Willis twins are getting to train on a daily basis with such international stars as Marinette Pichon, Kelly Smith, and Anne Makinen.
The lessons learned in training have translated into wins as the Wildcats, who play their home games at Mercer County Community College, have turned into a juggernaut, getting off to a sizzling 10-0-1 start.
"Our practices are probably our best competition, playing against each other," said Rochelle Willis, the elder of the twins by 25 minutes.
"We do a lot of game-type passing drills. Most practices we just get out there and play against each other. These are probably the best players I will ever play against in my life."
While their teammates on the Wildcats may be the top players they have competed against, the Willis twins agree that they have been the best competition for each other.
"Growing up, us two, my brother and my father all played soccer so we were always able to get out," noted Janine Willis.
"We had four right there who could play whereas other girls would have to go with a team to get in a practice session. We could just go out on the fly and get the ball working. We push each other and we are so competitive with each other."
Understandably, the sisters have developed a special rapport on the pitch. "I think we give each other confidence," explained Rochelle, who has earned the nickname "Rocky" at Princeton due to her physical play.
"We play a similar style, we are very physical. I think we just feed off each other. It’s great knowing that my sister is out there playing with me."
The two were on the same page in choosing to bring their talents to New Jersey in 2001. "Princeton was a great environment, we both really enjoyed ourselves on our visit,” said Rochelle, who noted that the twins both picked Princeton as their top choice after visiting such schools as Harvard, Stanford, and Michigan.
"The team was great, the coach [Julie Shackford] was amazing. We were lucky when we came here because we had each other and another Canadian on the team, Brea Griffiths. We all play defense and we all started together."
They have relished maturing together in the classroom and on the field. "Off-the-field, the academics arena has been second to none, we are very happy," added Janine, a psychology major who plans to someday go to law school.
"Soccer-wise, I think it has been a growing experience, having to adjust to different styles of play and different girls around you."
As the Willis twins look beyond the W-League season, they are hoping to make their senior season at Princeton unforgettable.
They both acknowledge that the Tigers underachieved last fall as they fell to second in the Ivy League and finished at 11-3-3 after getting out of the gate with a 9-1-2 mark.
"I think a lot of our problems last year were psychological," asserted Rochelle, a sociology major who may go to law school or get into teaching. "We lost our focus a little bit, we definitely took things for granted."
Her sister, who was elected as a tri-captain for the 2004 Princeton squad, feels a special responsibility to make sure that the Tigers keep their noses to the grindstone.
"We were disappointed with last year and we're trying to get past that,” said Janine. "We're trying to put our heads together and find ways we can push through. We've talked about breaking the season into segments like the Calgary Flames [of the NHL] did last season."
They are both confident that the Tigers will produce something special this fall. "We only lost two seniors, we have a large portion of the team back," said Rochelle. "We're going to go out with a bang, we've decided that."
Her sister puts it in even stronger terms. "We've got to stay focused but, without a doubt, we are excited," declared Janine. "I think this will be the best year our school has had."
If they can duplicate the success they've had this summer with the Wildcats, the Willis twins may well push Princeton to new heights.