They are sprinters. Their race times are almost identical. Their work ethic is strong. They both like to make people laugh.
But Sloan and Sydney Saunders, the twin sisters who compete on the women’s swim team, said they don’t like to be grouped together as one. The juniors each have their own personalities and their own goals – and a desire to beat each other.
“We are just naturally competitive with each other,” Sydney Saunders said. “It pushes each of us to do better.”
Both of the sisters are standouts for the Colonials, and they often take to the pool for the same races. In GW’s first dual meet win of the season last Saturday, Sloan Saunders captured the top slot in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard freestyle. Sydney Saunders grabbed the third- and second-place finishes, respectively, in those two races.
Sloan Saunders, who is 2 inches taller than her sister at 5-foot-6, serves as co-captain of GW’s squad. Though head coach Dan Rhinehart was quick to laud her brand of leadership, he acknowledged that Sydney Saunders, too, could have easily assumed the position.
“I look at both of them – very strong, very focused individuals that help our team,” Rhinehart said. “It could have easily gone the other way.”
And the Saunders twins almost did not suit up together for the Colonials at all: The sisters, who hail from Danville, Calif., didn’t originally aspire to attend college together, Sloan Saunders said. Sloan was sold on GW after visiting the campus, but Rhinehart said Sydney Saunders always had her heart set on being a Colonial.
Though both sisters knew they wanted to swim at the collegiate level, their aspirations for the future differ, with Sydney Saunders majoring in civil engineering and Sloan Saunders in exercise science. Growing up, the sisters added, Sydney Saunders wanted to take to the stage, rather than the pool.
“It makes no sense. She never took a dance class. Well – she sang in choir,” Sloan Saunders said, gently teasing her sister. “But she never took an acting class.”
“It was a dream, you know, we all dream when we’re young,” Sydney said, laughing, and exposing the comfortable humor that characterizes their relationship. That ease, the twins said, helps to keep the rest of the Colonials in good spirits, a contribution which is a top priority for the Saunders sisters.
The twins have two other goals: to place in the top five in the Atlantic 10 championships in February and to earn a team GPA of 3.3. It’s the presence of these team-focused ideals that Rhinehart said makes the Saunders sisters integral additions to his roster.
“They have presented themselves as very strong, very positive and very forthcoming,” Rhinehart said. “We talk about the fact that we have a bit of a family orientation, and that just adds to it.”
Sloan and Sydney Saunders’ “sister act” may have confused teammates and staff in their early freshman season, but they have now emerged as individuals. Rhinehart said their strong bond as sisters and teammates is clearly visible, but their unique identities are what truly shine through in the pool.
Besides, Sloan Saunders said, foremost on her mine when at a race is – what else – defeating her sister.
“I think it was worse when we were younger. We were really, really competitive but more of to the point where we would cry if the other one would beat us. So if Sydney would beat me I would be devastated,” Sloan Saunders said, laughing. “But now it’s just like, ‘Aw darn,’ and then I move on.”