Sisters stick together on volleyball court

By Julie Barzilay

Middle blocker Krystle Higgins ’09 reaches her hands above the net and shuts down the opposing team’s spike with a powerful block. As her team huddles for a quick cheer, Christina Higgins ’11 gets ready to substitute in as outside hitter and assume the position right next to Krystle. As the sisters turn towards the net, a player on the other team murmurs something quietly.

“Whoa, there’s two of them.”

Reactions like these are not uncommon for the girls varsity volleyball team, which boasts not one but two sets of “Twin Towers,” as their teammates call them: sisters Krystle and Christina Higgins and identical twins Mileva ’11 and Milena Popovic ’11. 

At times, having siblings on the same team can lead to cases of mistaken identity.  Krystle and Christina say their teammates never confuse them, but they are often lumped together as “the Higgins sisters.” 

The Popovic twins explained that people generally have to use little details to tell them apart at first, like their shoes or hair.  Eventually though, people have no problem determining who is whom.

“I have to take a second when distinguishing between Milena and Mileva, but it has gotten a lot easier,” Coach Adam Black said.

Not one of these four girls plays the same position as her sibling, which they each said alleviates most of the potential for competition between them. 

“We’re not compared to each other because of the different positioning,” Krystle said.  “Which is good, because we both have different strengths and weaknesses.”

The extent of the competition for the Popovics is their tendency to “smack talk through the net” at each other, Mileva said. They feel like the fact that they are twins is less important on this team than it has been on teams in the past – possibly because Mileva has been out for the whole school season due to a torn PCL, or Posterior Cruciate Ligament. Nonetheless, Mileva attends all games and practices, and plans to play with the torn muscle for her club team.

All four girls agree that the roles of sister and teammate essentially blend on the court.

“We feed off of each other’s energy,” Milena said.  “If Mileva is mad, I sometimes get mad, but if she’s excited, I get excited.”

Christina and Krystle acknowledged that they can be more honest with each other than with other teammates.

“I know what she’s capable of,” Krystle said.  “I have to remember not to get more invested than I would with another player.”

Krystle said she was initially worried that Christina, as a sophomore on varisty, would be nervous, but “she definitely holds her own on the team,” she said.

Both sets of sisters appreciate always having someone there for support and value the special connection they have when they play together.

Black doesn’t think the sisterly bonds alter the team dynamic at all, but says both pairs of siblings are “quite supportive of one another.”

Mileva and Milena began playing together five years ago on a recreational volleyball team coached by their mother, so they’re used to sharing the spotlight, warming up together, and working as teammates.

But for the Higgins sisters, this is their first time ever playing together.

Krystle began her volleyball career on the Harvard-Westlake team in seventh grade, and Christina got involved when she entered seventh grade, due to an interest in the sport piqued by her sister.

Having both daughters on the varsity team is significantly more convenient for the girls’ parents – whereas last year their parents watched both the varsity and junior varsity games and coordinated driving schedules for two sets of practices, now Krystle can drive Christina everywhere, and the family watches just one game.

Mileva and Milena don’t know what the future holds in terms of playing together in college. Milena said their attitude is essentially “if it happens, it happens.”

Krystle has committed to play volleyball at Boston College next year, while Christina will step up as a junior on varsity.

“It will be really different when Krystle goes to college,” Christina said. “It will be sad, and something I’ll have to adjust to, but I’m still going to watch her play on TV.”

Krystle said she wouldn’t have minded having an older sister to look up to during her younger years of playing volleyball, though she found role models in older teammates and college players.

There is one thing that will not change when Krystle graduates from both the school and from the team.

“I look up to [Krystle],” Christina said. “And I aspire to be like her someday.”

Though the girls say that sometimes other teams do get intimidated by the two sets of tall sisters, Black doesn’t think that the fact that these girls are related is any kind of advantage.

“I don’t think siblings make any type of positive or negative difference other than that they have someone close to lean on after practice,” he said.  “I think what gives us an edge is our preparation and if the individuals on the team work with and for each other.”

Teammate Emily Waterhouse ’09 agreed.

“We don’t even notice that there are two sets of sisters on the team, because we’re all like sisters,” she said.