Soccer will not divide Bledsoe twins

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Aubrey and Amber Bledsoe are identical in almost every way -- the same look, the same 5-foot-9 height, the same position on a Division I soccer team. And they will both find themselves at this weekend's Women's College Cup semifinals at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University.

But the path that led them there is hardly the same.

Aubrey Bledsoe will be on the KSU Soccer Stadium field as the starting goalkeeper for Wake Forest (18-3-4), which faces Duke (21-3-1) in the semifinals on Friday night. Amber, the starting keeper for Brown University, will be her mirror image there -- but only in the stands. Aubrey will take yet another step toward national prominence in a career that ultimately could lead all the way to the U.S. Olympic team. Amber's soccer destiny beyond college is likely to be as a cheerleader for her sister.

Only Aubrey and Amber, as competitive as twin sisters can be growing up, truly know the emotions that come from those differing levels of success. But they also know soccer will not divide them.

"I'm her No. 1 fan," Amber Bledsoe said in a telephone interview last week.

So how could these likely identical twins -- they never had the blood test to actually confirm it -- not develop into identical prospects? Maybe it started at the beginning, when Aubrey barged into the world first to parents who weren't expecting a second child on Nov. 20, 1991. Char Bledsoe had no idea she was carrying twins. She never had an ultrasound, and apparently, the two heartbeats weren't detected during pregnancy.

"I had a normal delivery and Aubrey was born and [the doctor] said, 'Nurse, nurse, get over here, there's another baby,'" Char Bledsoe recalled. "That's when we found out. My husband was jumping up and down. I just couldn't believe it."

It didn't take long for them to become soccer players. Their father, Paul Bledsoe, was a recreational league soccer coach for his children, including sons Bret, the oldest in the family, and Micah, the youngest, and he signed up Aubrey and Amber to play at around 5 years old. They split time as goalkeepers for years, Aubrey always in goal but Amber a goalkeeper and forward. But when they moved up to play goalkeeper on a club team in their hometown of Cincinnati, Aubrey was given the starting job on the premier team and Amber was sent to a lower-level A team. By the time Amber was 13, the family made the decision to move her to a different club so the sisters weren't competing for playing time anymore, allowing Amber to develop, as well.

"I would kind of have to root for her to do bad so I would get more time," Aubrey said of the challenge of playing on the same team. "We were definitely very competitive, but we both support each other."

As for that competition, the bragging rights still belong to Amber. The only time the two club teams ever played, Amber's team won.

Their parents did not send them to different high schools, though. The twins played on the same St. Ursula Academy team, although Amber moved to striker her senior year and was second team all-league while Aubrey excelled in goal and was all-state. They were state champs in their junior and senior years.

"When they first started clubs, Amber couldn't decide if she wanted to be a goalie or a field player, so she kind of did both,'' Char Bledsoe said. "And Aubrey concentrated more on goalie. Amber is a better field player than Aubrey. Amber has a really hard kick."

Aubrey was the more developed goalkeeper. And those skills showed when she tagged along with some of her club teammates to a camp at Wake Forest when she was going into her junior year in high school.

"We really didn't know anything about her, and she just came up," Wake Forest coach Tony da Luz said. "She came in and right away, we looked at her like, this kid's pretty athletic.

"From her three days or four days of camp she was here, her work ethic, you could just see how serious she was about what she was doing and the potential. We saw the potential."

Aubrey was not heavily recruited by top teams as a junior -- she played on a club team that was not as high-profile as some. But because of her performance at the Wake Forest camp, da Luz targeted her before others knew her potential. By the time the secret was out, Aubrey was already committed to the Demon Deacons.

Aubrey was expected to be a backup as a freshman last season, but wound up starting every game and was named the ACC tournament MVP after helping the Demon Deacons to the championship. As a sophomore, she has set a Wake Forest record with 14 shutouts so far.

Aubrey has caught the attention of national coaches, as well. She played for a U.S. U18 team that went to Spain her senior year in high school, and then was invited in October to a U23 camp to train with the full U.S. national team coaching staff, led by Pia Sundhage.

"I don't think there's any limits on what she can do as far as getting to the national team because she keeps getting better and better," da Luz said. "And her concentration level, her focus, her kicking game from last year to this year is so much better, and she still has more strength and more power to come. So I wouldn't count her out as far as remaining in that pool."

Could Aubrey be the next Hope Solo? It's too early to say, but not too early to prepare.

"I think I have a lot of potential,'' Aubrey said. "It's really up to me if I put in the hours and the hard work, and I think I can keep going.

"I would obviously love to play for the full team. Hopefully, the WPS will stick around -- I'm not really sure how that's doing. I would love to play if I get an opportunity."

As for Amber, the opportunity to play with another club team while in high school was critical to her development. It led to interest from several smaller Division I programs, including Brown, which won out in large part because of its academics. Amber has been a two-year starter for the Bears, splitting goalkeeping duties.

But the Ivy League is not the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is filled with powerhouse programs and players who could someday dot the roster of the U.S. national team. Three of the four College Cup teams this weekend are from the ACC: Wake Forest, Duke and Florida State.

Despite all of her success, Aubrey is quick to counter the idea that she is somehow more talented than Amber.

"I wouldn't say I'm the more talented twin,'' Aubrey said. "We both have our strengths and weaknesses. I guess maybe somebody could say I excel more in soccer, but there's definitely a lot of things she's better than me at. She's very creative and artistic.

"I don't want to brag too much, I guess you could say, just because I have gotten to experience some pretty great things that, unfortunately, she hasn't been there to be part of with me. But she's always there to support me."

Amber does not struggle with the comparisons. Asked if it was hard to see her sister receive opportunities that she didn't have, Amber said, "No, it hasn't been difficult. I'm extremely proud of my sister. It's just really fun to watch her go places and do things with soccer.

"I hope she makes it to the full national team someday."

Maybe, in the end, they didn't reach identical heights because they didn't have identical goals.

"I think Aubrey's starting to realize that maybe there's something beyond college, like a dream that she's had and maybe it could be true," Char Bledsoe said. "But Amber really didn't have that same dream."

She does have at least one more goal, though. Amber would like to up her record against her sister before her playing days are over. She's hoping Wake Forest and Brown will arrange to play sometime in the next two years.

"It'd be a tough game," Amber acknowledged, "but hopefully I'd make some great saves in goal and maybe our strikers could sneak one past my sister."

Seems competition is something Aubrey and Amber Bledsoe will always have in common.

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