Gearing up Side by Side: The Experiences of Siblings in Sport

Story by Dez Rodriguez Photos by Josh Julagay

Good o’ sibling rivalry... or maybe not? The fun and adventurous times paired with feeling the need to one up the other is something people can remember from growing up with siblings. When applied to sports, these traits are only enhanced, often times bringing a new meaning to the sibling connection. At CWU, there are three pairs of siblings playing on the same teams.

PULSE got the exclusive of what these siblings had to say about playing together.

Rugby Trio

The A’au trio, Suiluana (Sui) and twins, Tiara and Tiana A’au, began their rugby careers in elementary school. Their story started when their father, Tia A’au, woke them up at 3 a.m. to work out on the local track and football field. With the busy family residing in Portland, Ore., the early wakeup call was the only free time the trio had to train. 

The trio agree that it paid off. Suicide workouts and the 4-mile runs helped them make an immediate impact on the Grant Generals Rugby squad, a local club team. They wreaked havoc together for two years before Sui graduated from Jefferson High School in 2016. 

“Our dad has been training us since we were young, it got more aggressive as we played rugby,” Tiana says. “Running every day after games and after practices because practice is just practice, “Tiara added. 

Sui immediately focused on setting her sisters up for the future. She reached out to previous CWU women’s rugby head coach Mel Denham about the possibility of the trio playing for the team in the upcoming years. Sui got the answer she wanted and committed while the twins followed thereafter. 

Suiluana (Sui) and twins, Tiara and Tiana A’au

Suiluana (Sui) and twins, Tiara and Tiana A’au

“We most definitely feel connected. I feel like its home here because we’re all together,”

“We can count on each other every time because they’re my blood sisters,”

Tiana expressed. 

In 2018, the trio were selected for team USA’s Women's Junior All-Americans team made up of 25 athletes under all being 20-years-old. They all traveled to Nova Scotia and made the starting lineup in matches against Canada and England. 

The adventure continued when the U.S. Women’s National Team opened a high-performance training camp in Chula Vista, California. Sui and Tiana trained at the Olympic Training Center while Tiara was forced to sit out due to a concussion. Tiana’s performance earned her a spot on the roster for the U.S. Women’s Eagles National Team. The international games included matches against No. 1 ranked New Zealand, No. 2 ranked England and No. 8 ranked Ireland. 

“I loved the hits and the aggressiveness,”

Tiana said. 

Fast forward a year later, the trio now finds themselves all on the new Women's Eagles (15 vs. 15) 2019 Performance Squad. The list comprises of 38 female athletes with the most potential to make up team USA and will play at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2021. 

The extreme competitive nature of the trio goes way back before their days playing in Tomlinson Stadium for CWU. The fact that they are blood sisters would often times bring out a different level of competitiveness against each other at practice. Wanting to get the best of the sister rivalry created a fun aggressiveness while they faced off. 

“Our coaches would tell us to go in different lines to go against other players, not each other,” Tiara says. “All of us, every time we go against each other, at least one of us is gonna get injured. We really go at it,” Sui added. 

Through all their past training and now making it on the list for the rugby world cup team, the trio is on to a journey bigger than ever before. It’s been successful careers thus far, and the legacy is only just beginning.... 

Basketball Doubles

Born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, sisters Aliyah Pana, 22 and Alexis Pana, 20, dreams of playing on the same court in college was becoming very unlikely. Alexis had just completed her first season playing basketball at CWU while Aliyah was the basketball manager going into her last season of eligibility. If the duo wanted to make it happen, Aliyah would have to try out and earn her spot on the team.  

“Originally I came to CWU just for school,” Aliyah said. “My sister actually signed a scholarship here to play basketball, so I thought I’d support her and focus on school.” 

Years before being on the basketball court, the Pana sisters demonstrated their athleticism by dancing hula, a Polynesian style of dance. They combined it with cheerleading and basketball as they got older but learned it would be too hard to keep up with all three. So, they made the decision to drop hula and cheer to dedicate their time to basketball. 

Their father coached them at Hilo High School in Hawaii. Aside from conditioning at practices, they were required to work out with the football conditioning coach as well on the football field. Even after returning home, they would complete dribbling drills outside adding to their training. 

“For basketball we would practice all week. The only day we had off was Saturdays and Superbowl Sundays,”

Alexis says.

Aliyah Pana, 22 and Alexis Pana, 20

Aliyah Pana, 22 and Alexis Pana, 20

On the court, the Pana sisters were looked at to be the captains of the team because their father was the head coach. They admitted to thinking they would have it easy because of that fact but, they learned very quickly just how hard it was going to be. 

“He was actually harder on us than he was on anyone else,”

“Any mistake that our team would make, he would get on us for it,”

Alexis added. 

“We were doing a layup drill, going full court and I threw [the ball] at her legs. She threw it back at me and my dad started yelling at us telling us to stop fighting on the court, and then he kicked me out of the gym,” Alexis recalls. “Really, he should have kicked [Aliyah] out, she started the attitude thing but he didn’t see that.”

After Aliyah graduated high school, she decided to take a year off and focus on developing her skills further, also known as redshirting, at University of Hawaii Hilo. She then transferred to Ocean County Junior College in New Jersey but immediately felt homesick being so far from home. Wanting to finish her schooling but not wanting to go home yet, Alexis’s commitment to play basketball at CWU came at the perfect time. 

Aliyah transferred to CWU not intending to play basketball. However, she still didn’t want to be away from the game she loved. So, she talked to previous CWU women’s head coach, Jeff Harada, about the possibility of being the manager. Being courtside at the games alongside her sister Alexis was great, but she wanted something more. 

“Last spring, I realized that it was my last year of eligibility,” Aliyah says. “I didn't want to waste it, so I talked to Randi and she gave me a chance.” 

Alexis expressed she was ecstatic when she learned her sister would be joining her on the court. She thought back to the memories the two had together on the court growing up and couldn’t wait to build more for one last final ride. 

“I don’t like to admit this but, she is honestly a better shooter than I am. It was so much fun to have her step up and step on the court with us,” Alexis says. 

Baseball Brothers

Twins Yi-an and Yi-fan Pan trekked from Taiwan to Langley, British Columbia and Canada at just 6-years-old. Their parents took to a massive relocation to start a new beginning and believing Canada offered more opportunities for them at the time. With no baseball program offered at Langley Fundamental Secondary High School, their path to the diamond has been an odd one. 

“I don’t think we’d be playing baseball if we didn’t move to Canada honestly,”

Yi-fan Pan says.

The brothers strong liking to baseball brought them to join a local club team that played baseball year-round. Yi-an played ins and outfielder while Yi-fan was an infielder, playing different positions allowed them to observe and critique the other’s play. 

Twins Yi-an and Yi-fan Pan

Twins Yi-an and Yi-fan Pan

“We’re honest with each other. We tell each other straight up if we need to work on something, there’s no sugar coating it.”

Yi-an Pan says.

“If he’s playing shitty I’ll straight up tell him that he is playing bad,” Yi-fan Pan added. 

While growing up and playing alongside each other on the field, opposing teams would often times get the two mixed up. When they’d be right behind the other in the batting order, players would stop the game and ask why the same person was hitting again, according to Yi-an Pan. Not knowing that they were twins. 

According to the twins, their twin telepathy also seemed to be on full display at times during games.

“We would always know what each other was going to do,”

Yi-fan says. “There was one time where he was catcher and I was at third base, he just back picked a guy with no signal or anything. We kind of just did it.”

After graduating high school, the twins received scholarship offers from schools from various locations. Out of all the offers, they believed CWU had the most to offer them. They really enjoyed the west coast and didn’t want to adapt to a new lifestyle elsewhere. 

The twins say being close to home was also big, as offers in the south would have been too hard for their family to handle. 

Last year, 2018, was the first time, in their lives, that they didn't play baseball together on the diamond. Yi-an Pan tore his ACL and was forced to sit out all of the 2017-2018 season. Watching his teammates struggle at times motivated him to rehab stronger and get back on the field to help the team. “The beginning was tough because I just sat there for a month. I wasn’t able to do anything,” Yi-an Pan says.

“I wanted to come back and play again and prove that I’m still the same player I was last year.” 

Through the struggles of moving over 6,000 miles away, to learning English in a new country, the Pan brothers have always had one constant; each other. Outlasting many obstacles in their lives has been a breeze being able to hit them together. 

“We are just comfortable with each other,” Yi-an Pan says. “Sometimes coming to a new team can be uncomfortable, because we don’t know anyone, but I have him.”