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United they stand

SSHS twins to play college volleyball at St. Olaf

Austin Colbert

— The idea of Abigail and Maritza Wiedel going to different colleges is almost laughable. The identical twins, seniors at Steamboat Springs High School, have been essentially inseparable since birth, and nothing was going to change that.

"We never thought about splitting up," Abigail Wiedel said. "It just felt so weird for us to do that. We've basically been together, joined at the hip, since we were born. We don't really do a lot of things that are different from each other."

The reality was, however, that if both girls wanted to play volleyball in college, splitting up might be the only option. The twins each were key pieces of the Sailors volleyball team last fall, which went 20-5 en route to its first league title since 2002. While versatile, both are natural setters, and getting one school to offer both of them, for the same position, was asking a lot.

If it came down to it, Sailors volleyball coach Wendy Hall thinks they would have walked away from the sport if it meant staying together.

"It was a very high goal of theirs to be able to go to school together, and if they were going to play volleyball, that was going to be together, as well," Hall said. "The fact that they are getting everything they wanted is just a great thing to see. I can't think of two more deserving girls than these two. They have tremendous work ethic in the classroom and in the gym."

On Wednesday, the first day of the spring signing period, their dreams became reality. The twins each signed a letter of intent to play volleyball for St. Olaf College in Minnesota, an NCAA Division III program.

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Their mother, Mary Jo Wiedel, grew up in Minnesota and didn't think the twins playing together in college was a realistic option, considering their mutual position.

"It will be fun to have them up there. And they are used to cold weather," she said. "These girls have wanted this for a long time. When they dedicated themselves to volleyball back in the eighth grade, then joining up with Wendy through their high school years, they live, breathe, eat this sport, and they just love it."

The twins did have options. It came down to St. Olaf College, located in the tiny town of Northfield, about 45 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis, and Hamline University, located in St. Paul. Among the deciding factors were St. Olaf's rural location — both agreed they were "not really a city girl" — and the volleyball program's family-like atmosphere.

"The girls at St. Olaf were just more welcoming toward us. I feel like we just fit in a little more with those girls," Abigail Wiedel said. "They were really close with each other, and I really want to be part of that, because that's exactly what our high school team was like. We were all just a great group of girls that just loved to play volleyball, and we were always together and always doing things."

As excited as they are to continue their volleyball careers, academics probably had the greatest influence on their college decision. Both are interested in the medical field: Maritza wants to be an orthopedic surgeon and Abigail, while a little more flexible, is likely to follow suit, unless something else catches her eye along the way.

St. Olaf College, a private, four-year liberal arts school with an enrollment of about 3,000 students, is known for high academic standards. Among its strengths is its science program, a big draw for both girls.

"They have a new science building with a ton of new facilities we can use for research further on," Maritza Wiedel said. "I was looking at other schools, and I realized I didn't want to be owned by a volleyball program. I wanted academics to come first, and that's what a DIII college had to offer."

Hall thinks both twins will have a chance to play right away. St. Olaf's volleyball team is coming off back-to-back 9-19 seasons, but does have a new coach heading into the 2016 season. The team went 31-5 and won a league title as recently as 2010.

And by buying into the package deal that is the Wiedel girls, St. Olaf is sure to find out how important it was to keep the duo together.

"We are our own individuals. We just use each other to make the other better. If I wasn't on a team with her, I don't know if I'd be able to push myself as hard as I normally do," Abigail Wiedel said of her sister. "I'm so, so competitive against her, and whenever we go work out, I've got to be faster than her, I've got to work harder than her. And we just make each other better players. So I feel like, even in school, we make each other better students."

The 2015-16 SSHS volleyball senior class has four players headed to play volleyball in college. Maddie Labor signed with Regis University in the fall, and Hayley Johnson is committed to one of Penn State University’s satellite campuses.

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert