College soccer's most talented sister act
There may be places in this country that celebrate individualism more than Venice Beach in California, but good luck finding one with a backdrop of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. Soon after Samantha Mewis relocated from her native Massachusetts to begin her freshman year at UCLA, she ventured beyond the campus' Westwood locale to check out the oceanfront enclave of eccentricity where a person fits in by standing out.
"Everyone was kind of in the their own world," Mewis said. "It seemed like another world, right on the beach. California is really different than home is, and I really enjoy being here."
A day later, Mewis, a player considered by most to be the top recruit in this year's freshman class, took to the soccer field and scored the first of what will be many goals for the Bruins.
The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but a journey of 3,000 miles that took Mewis from within a long jog of the Atlantic Ocean to the Venice Beach boardwalk was a necessary step in a trek two sisters hope ends with them becoming the first siblings to play alongside each other on the United States national team.
Samantha is the younger half of the sisters Mewis, both midfielders as talented as any in college soccer. Kristen Mewis is a junior at Boston College, where she earned All-American honors last season, led the Eagles to the first College Cup appearance in the program's history, and has them back in the top 10 this season. Samantha is one of five players to start every game this season for the sixth-ranked and resurgent Bruins.
Growing up together helped the sisters hone the skills that make them exceptional. Going their separate ways could help them make history. Not to mention, it should help keep the holidays more jolly.
"I kind of wanted to get away from my sister," Samantha said of choosing UCLA. "Everyone always asks, 'Why didn't you go to BC?' I think we both needed to get away from each other. We played on like every team together growing up, and I think we both needed our space from each other. We actually get along so much better now that we're apart."
Don't misunderstand them. Samantha adores her older sister and happily admits it, as little sisters often will, just as Kristie adores her younger sister and will only slightly more begrudgingly admit as much, as older sisters are wont to do. It's just that they have always been a package deal, each one half of a whole. Kristie's time at Boston College marked one of the first instances in which a team had a Mewis, singular, on its roster.
The two played together in the backyard growing up in Hanson, Mass., on local youth town teams, at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, on the Scorpions FC club team and on both the under-17 and under-20 United States national teams in World Cup events. In the process, they became the first American sisters to play together at those national-team levels.
When you've spent that much time together, it's not surprising that a certain dynamic emerges.
"They definitely do the big sister, little sister roles," said Santa Clara senior Bianca Henninger, a teammate of both in the 2010 Under-20 World Cup. "Kristie is definitely the big sister and gave Sam a hard time, pushed her around a little bit. But Sam took it and tried to give it back as much as she could. But of course, the older sister always comes out on top. It was just really funny to be around and see them interact."
Kristie is a commanding presence on the field. If it can be a positive trait, there is almost contempt in the calmness with which she moves, a confidence that she can take anyone or put a ball on frame from just about any spot inside the midfield stripe with a thundering left foot. That sort of icy cool is what Samantha grew up measuring herself against -- she's quick to point out her older sister never took it easy on her. So it's no surprise that even as Sam grew to be a couple of inches taller than Kristie, she always looked up to her, even during the times she grew frustrated and questioned if she would ever be as good.
"I loved when she got frustrated because that meant, obviously, I was doing better," Kristie noted with more than a trace of mirth. "We compete against each other with just about everything, but it's good for us because we're only making each other better because we're both really competitive people."
In Samantha's case, it certainly makes for an interesting personality profile to be at once both one of the best in the country at something and the second best in your own household at it. Kristie is bold and impetuous on the field and admits to a slightly disorganized existence off it. Samantha is more organized off the field and still learning to trust her own offensive skills on it -- just as you might expect of someone trying to make up Kristie's two-year head start on everything for the past 18 years.
"[Samantha] is very different from Kristie," said UCLA senior Sydney Leroux, friends with both sisters from the U-20 national team. "She's more shy, sometimes she doesn't know how good she is, and I like that about her. I don't think she knows how much potential she has, which I think is a great thing to have as a soccer player and a person."
Coming to California for school was meant to give Samantha an opportunity to explore that potential on and off the field. Kristie was in Los Angeles recently to attend a one-week training camp with the under-23 national team. Before she headed back to Boston, she visited her little sister. For the first time, it wasn't just Samantha's 5-foot-11 frame that made the "little" label seem outdated.
"It was so weird to just see her dorm room and see that she was actually living out there," Kristie said. "It was just like the weirdest thing. I was looking at her bed and I was like, 'This isn't your bed; your bed's at home.' It was just so weird because she's on her own now. She's all grown up; she's at college. She's living on her own and taking care of herself. It was good to see her like that."
They talk on the phone frequently, talking shop as Kristie's Eagles look to survive a tough ACC and get back to the College Cup and Samantha's Bruins look to maintain a hot start and get back to the season's final weekend after a one-year hiatus. But the conversations also drift to anything and everything else that makes up a college student's life. What was once potentially grating, sharing the exact same existence with someone in the same house, now serves as a bond. They understand each other better from 3,000 miles apart than anyone in the room with them ever could.
"Not a lot of people understand, really, what we do and what we have to go through, especially with the national team stuff," Samantha said. "So it's so cool having someone in your family who gets it so well. If I ever have to vent or if I need advice or something she's the person I call to talk about soccer.
"It's like we're best friends now. We used to fight like cats and dogs, you don't even know."
Of course, some habits die hard. When Kristie visited Sam at UCLA after the national team camp she got a lift from Leroux.
"The first thing that Kristie says to Sam is, 'Eww,' and then they hug," Leroux recounted. "They have a very funny relationship, but definitely a lot of love."
So much love that they needed a continent to keep from smothering each other with it. At least until they get a chance to again take the field together on the one team they're eager to share.
The one introduced by the national anthem.
Graham Hays covers women's college soccer and softball for ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.
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