It is rare enough for two players from the same high school team to get the chance to play collegiate soccer. Even rarer is the opportunity for family members to move onto the next level together. Rarer still, twin sisters playing together from three years old in North Attleboro parks and recreation leagues, through the same club soccer and high school teams, all the way to the NCAA Div. III tournament.
North Attleboro’s Ashlyn Gaulin and Emma Gaulin have shared almost all of their experiences on the pitch together (Ashlyn chuckles remembering that one year in middle school where Emma made their club’s ‘A’ team and she didn’t). From the age of three to this weekend, and possibly into grad school, the two are by their own admission inseparable on and off the field.
Last Sunday, when Mt. St. Mary’s (N.Y.) visited Hamilton’s Love Field, Ashlyn assisted on the first Continentals goal with a throw-in and Emma sent in a ball to the top of the six for the team’s sixth goal. It was one of their last chances to play together at Hamilton and both got on the scoresheet with their second assists of the season.
“Even just from high school, if Emma scored or got an assist, I was the loudest one cheering,” Ashlyn explained the day after the Mt. St. Mary’s game. “For both of us to get one yesterday was awesome. It’s just fun playing with her. Seeing her be aggressive pushes me to be aggressive. It’s a lot of fun, especially when we win and get points together.”
It may seem difficult to be around a sibling all the time, but for the Gaulins it has become second nature to have the other there and neither would have it any other way.
“We always tried to be on the same team,” Ashlyn said. “Especially, once we narrowed it down to schools over four hours away, we were like okay we want to go to school together. We’re best friends. We don’t want to be separate.”
“There was one day I can remember where I didn’t want to go to the same school,” Emma said with a laugh. “There was one day in high school where someone couldn’t tell us apart and it was someone we’d been going to school with since elementary school. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy can’t tell us apart, I won’t have my own identity,’ but then, after that 24 hours, I got over it.”
She continued, “Ashlyn is my best friend and nothing really can take me from her. We’re attached at the hip so I always knew wherever she went I would go and wherever I was going to go she would probably follow.”
The transition from high school to college can be difficult for any incoming freshman, but having a twin sister to lean on during the difficult moments, like summer conditioning, helped Ashlyn and Emma assimilate to their new environment, four hours from home, much quicker.
“Having my sister there, a familiar face in a group of 30, gave me security that I was never alone,” Emma reflected. “It was always great knowing that someone was going through it the same way and had the same background as me. She was always just there, if I needed someone to rant to. She was just an outlet that I had.”
Ashlyn, who was the 2018 HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, was recruited as a forward out of North Attleboro, while Emma was a midfielder. In college, Emma almost immediately moved to outside back and this year has spent time in a defensive midfield role. Ashlyn started as a forward at Hamilton, spent all of last season at outside back, and this year has split between the two positions.
The connection that they’ve developed on the pitch has never been more important than while adapting to new roles at the collegiate level.
“I would pass the ball up to Ashlyn and make an overlapping run and she would take a step and leave the ball behind her and I would run onto it,” Emma said. “It was cool, that twin connection that we have. I know her playing style and we can be really blunt with each other – in a good critiquing, positive way.”
Off the pitch, their connection has also been tested. Like most colleges, Hamilton was forced to cancel its 2020 season because of the COVID pandemic. Without soccer to bring them together, the twins, who were living in separate dorms, had to find excuses to meet up outdoors to avoid breaking the school’s distancing protocols.
“My whole life has revolved around soccer since I was three and suddenly that was taken away from me,” Ashlyn said. “The way Hamilton set up the Covid protocols, we weren’t able to see people in different dorms. It made it challenging because it made me realize how much I depended on her. The amount of outdoor walks we did was insane, just so I could get to see her.”
Emma added, “Taking soccer away, we had to find different ways to fill the time and entertain us and I think having my twin there we could rely on each other to be there and do something fun. It’s what made me look back and realize that even though Covid was tough it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been if she wasn’t there.”
Because of the pandemic, college athletes have the opportunity to use an extra year of eligibility. Emma is looking to go to graduate school for secondary education and Ashlyn is considering a gap year before she applies for medical school, so there is a possibility that this might not be the last season where the Gaulins take the pitch together.
For now, with one final weekend to play, the twins, who are both captains this season, are focused on the present. The busy schedule of an in-season college athlete hasn’t afforded them a lot of time to reflect on the path that got them here or the uniqueness of them sharing this long road together.
“I’m super grateful for the opportunity to be playing with my best friend for my whole life,” Emma said. “Whenever we’re officially done, I’ll be equally sad and grateful that we’ve been able to have this experience. It’s pretty unique to say that you can live your whole life and play the sport that you love with not only a family member but your best friend.”
“I wouldn’t want it any other way because she is my best friend and partner for life and it’s like having a second part of you and if she wasn’t there it would’ve felt like something was missing,” said Ashlyn. “The fact that we’ve made it this far going from three years old as I was picking dandelions on the side of the field to helping Emma beat me on the ‘A’ team and thinking I really need to step it up to playing collegiate soccer together. It’s just been amazing memories that I’ll never forget and I’ll always be grateful for.”
Hamilton (6-4-4), which reached the NESCAC semifinal and the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2021, closes out its season with a non-league match at Cazenovia on Sunday afternoon.
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