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Monday June 5th

'Two peas in a pod': How North Carolina field hockey builds success through siblings

<p>UNC freshman back Ciana Riccardo (8) dribbles past UVA senior back Rachel Robinson (9) in Karen Shelton Stadium on Oct. 11, 2020. The Tar Heels beat the Cavaliers 5-1 in their first home game of the season.</p>
Buy Photos UNC first-year Ciana Riccardo (8) at the game against UVA on Oct. 11, 2020. Her and her sister, junior Romea Riccardo, have established themselves as an iconic sibling duo in field hockey.

Ciana and Romea Riccardo are used to hearing the phrase, "Oh, that's a Riccardo." In Downingtown, Pennsylvania, having long brown hair and a field hockey stick makes you easily recognizable as a member of the big Riccardo family. The sisters are just two of their eight siblings — and the eldest three all play field hockey at the Division I level. 

Ciana, a first-year, and Romea, a sophomore, have recently become part of a legacy of sibling pairs in North Carolina's distinguished field hockey history. 

UNC head coach Karen Shelton has coached over 10 pairs of sisters during her tenure at UNC, and she embraces the trend. For Shelton, the high number of younger siblings following in their older sisters' footsteps is a testament to the culture of the field hockey program and the University as a whole. 

The Riccardo sisters aren't the only duo from eastern Pennsylvania to come down to the Southern part of heaven to play field hockey. The Brill sisters, from Oley, Pennsylvania, both played in Chapel Hill and won two championships together in 2007 and 2009. Melanie and Teryn Brill, now Teryn Brill Galloway, credit their time in Chapel Hill for not only starting a lifelong passion for the game — they both coach and Teryn works for USA Field Hockey — but also for growing their relationship.

'Two peas in a pod'

Teryn and Ciana, the younger sisters in their families, were drawn to field hockey, and eventually UNC, because of their older sisters' experiences. 

"They've definitely made me love it even more because seeing them succeed and have fun and be with friends and take all the next steps like committing to colleges it's made me be like, 'Oh my God, that's so cool. I want to be just like them,'" Ciana said.

Initially, she started playing the game because it was a fun family activity; she never imagined she'd eventually be competing at UNC alongside her sister. During Ciana's recruiting process, Romea focused on supporting the best decision for Ciana. But she made sure her sister knew she'd be welcomed "with open arms" in Chapel Hill.

Before verbally committing to North Carolina, Ciana kept her intention to become a Tar Heel secret from her sister. She called Shelton during a family vacation at the beach to make her commitment official first. Romea was ecstatic, running across the kitchen to hug her sister when she came downstairs to share the news with her family.

The Brill sisters were in a similar situation, but Teryn received a little more influence from her family. While her parents left the final decision up to her, they let Teryn know having their daughters at the same school would definitely make their lives easier — especially because they traveled the 14-hour round trip to Chapel Hill for almost every game. Teryn was happy to oblige her parents after falling in love with the town while visiting her sister.

"We were like two peas in a pod growing up, so it only felt fitting that we went to the same school," Teryn said.

Melanie said Teryn coming to UNC was one of the best things that happened to her, and she felt empowered by being a part of a legacy bigger than just her or her sister.

"We came into that program knowing that generations of siblings had come through Carolina," Melanie said. "For us, at least me personally, that just made you feel a little bit more connected that you had other sisters that had gone through the same program and you're walking in their footsteps."

'Sisters can talk to each other a certain way'

The high number of successful sibling pairs in athletics — the Manning brothers, the Williams sisters, the Curry brothers — is no coincidence. Both pairs of sisters said they relied on their siblings' honesty and tough criticism to grow as field hockey players.

Shelton has noticed the advantage of that strict sibling criticism over the years. It's unique to have players that push each other with harsh truths to ensure both players are the best they can be.

"I think sisters can be honest. They can say, 'Hey, that's not good enough. If you want to play, you've got to work harder,'" Shelton said.

The Brill sisters relied on their childhood fights to push each other for every practice and game. They knew what motivated each other and they didn't shy away from pushing buttons, constantly motivating each other to strive for greatness. 

Melanie recalls that those conflicts weren't always pretty — there were tears and sometimes spite — but at the end of the day, both sisters knew they had each other's best interest at heart.

"They're always going to be that mirror that sometimes you are afraid to look in," Melanie said.

'A piece of home'

For the Riccardo and Brill sisters, who moved about seven hours away from their hometowns, having a family member at UNC made a difference. 

"I liked the fact that when I went somewhere else, there would still be a piece of home still with me," Ciana said.

The sisters took that feeling of home one step further. The Brills lived in a house together during their time in Chapel Hill, and the Riccardo sisters plan to do the same thing next year. 

For now, while Ciana finishes out her time in a dorm, the sisters have to settle for spending time together at practice and when Romea drops off homemade meals every night. 

As for Teryn, even though she was over 400 miles away from Pennsylvania as a first-year, she never felt like home was more than a bus ride away.

"I never really felt homesick because I had [Melanie]," she said. "I would just hop on the P2P, jump over to her house and hang out."

The many pairs of sisters who have come through the program have helped generate this sense of community. But it was created by Shelton herself, who has focused on creating a North Carolina field hockey family in more ways than one. 

"It's not just, come here, you play and you leave," Shelton said. "It's, you buy into a family unity. That's really important to all of us."

@MaryMacPorter1

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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