Long Beach State's Sister Act
Many coaches look to build a family atmosphere within their squads, but when looking at the Long Beach State women’s soccer roster, one would think that head coach Mauricio Ingrassia took it literally.
Four sets of sisters inhabit the 49er roster – the Balcers, Nelsons, Bullocks and Mendozas – and while each set is unique, the importance of team unity on and off the field cannot be measured. On any athletic field, joining a team means instantly gaining a new family – a sisterhood of sorts.
“Long Beach State is a family oriented team; everyone considers each other sisters. So when I had my actual sister on the team it was pretty awesome,” said team administrative assistant Lindsay Bullock.
Lindsay played for the 49ers from 2007-2010, collecting many conference and team accolades in her tenure. In her final two seasons with the 49ers, her sister Shannon, who is currently a senior on the team, joined her.
In his nine seasons as head coach, Ingrassia has coached five sets of sisters in the past five years, with four of those pairs on this year's roster alone – the most ever in a season.
“Since we have so many sets of sisters, it is that much closer between everyone,” said captain Jordan Nelson.
It is advantageous to the Long Beach coaching staff to be able to recruit players that have watched their older sibling integrate into the program, so when the younger sister arrives on campus for the first time someone is there to help her through the adjustment.
“Being my last two years and her first two years, I was able to help her transition into the college lifestyle and she made my last two seasons more memorable,” said big sis Lindsay.
But Lindsay’s role of playing with her sister in her final two seasons has taken a turn as she now holds a leadership role for the team. The transition wasn’t easy as she learned she had to separate her emotions as a sister and give Shannon the “tough love” she needs to reach her fullest potential.
“It is a different chemistry,” said younger sister Shannon. “They will yell at you and be more harsh, because in the end you know they will love you anyways.”
With every great family comes leadership and those that step up as big sisters for the team, not just the family member they are related to. Senior Alex Balcer, older sister to sophomore Lara, has made it a priority to be an example for her little sister and the team as a whole.
While Alex supports her team, she knows she always has the support of little sister Lara too.
“I love having someone around all the time; we wake up together, eat together and take off for practice together,” said Alex. The Balcer sisters are only a year apart, and have spent their whole lives together whether it was playing on the same team or sharing the same room.
“We have shared the same room for our entire lives, so being close is almost mandatory,” Lara said as the sisters laughed.
Being the younger sibling and in the shadow of her team captain sister, Lara looks up to Alex and sees it as inspiration to do her best, for she looks to become a leader in the years to come.
Jordan Nelson is joined by her younger sister, Taylor. the only pair that have the opportunity to play on the field together thus far.
The Nelson pair is in their second season of playing collegiate soccer together, an opportunity that they never thought would be possible. Senior Jordan started at Loyola Marymount University before transferring to Long Beach at the time Taylor was starting college.
“I was nervous to go to college so having her transfer helped the transition,” said sophomore Taylor.
The senior starter saw it as her last opportunity to play with her sister, something she would do over again if she could. “I was super excited to play with her because we have been playing as a team since we were five,” said Jordan.
Coach Ingrassia describes the Nelson clan as inseparable, whether on the field or on the sideline doing drills. They are always talking and motivating each other to do better.
While many of the duos have friendly competition amongst themselves, the freshman Mendoza twins compete to push each other farther.
“It is very competitive,” said Kiana. “We push each other to do better. Whenever I see her going hard, I have to tell myself to pick it up.”
“Competitive, but supportive,” said identical twin Makayla. While they assume different positions on the field, one is in the starting lineup, pushing the other twin to be better so she can assume her own starting spot as well.
Being newcomers, they aren’t as seasoned as the other duos, but they understand that the chemistry as a whole is a lot stronger than other teams they have played on.
So is the sister act the reason the 49ers have snagged five Big West titles in the last six years, while during that span posting a 30-12-3 mark in conference play? Could be.
While Ingrassia certainly doesn’t seek out sister duos, he certainly won’t shy away from the opportunity.
“They understand the mentality and what it takes to push each other both on and off the field,” he said. He went on to explain that the connection that already exists between two players spreads through the team to bring everyone closer together.
With team unity the Long Beach women’s soccer program continues to make the climb to success.