They both started swimming at the same time. They both swam at the NCAA Championships last year. They are both considering majoring in education. They both also happen to share the same birthday. That’s because they are identical twins. Minnesota’s Ashley and Kristen Steenvoorden made an impact for the Golden Gophers as freshmen last year, and they are looking to have success again at the upcoming Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
The sophomores already have a lot of experience to draw upon. Ashley won the Big Ten Championship in the 1,650 freestyle last year, and earned All-America honorable mention in that event at the NCAAs. Kristen competed in the 400 individual medley and 500 free at NCAAs. It meant a lot to the sisters that they were both able to compete, but that almost didn’t happen.
“After Big Tens last year, (Kristen) wasn’t going at that point, so she did a meet here the weekend after Big Tens and dropped about three seconds,” said Ashley, who had already qualified. “She still wasn’t sure if she was going. I don’t know if I was more upset than she was, but we were both definitely affected by it. We both wanted to go.”
They were elated when they learned that Kristen had qualified. From the start, the Steenvoordens had aspirations of swimming in top competitions. But the New Jersey natives hadn’t always known that they would end up swimming together at the same university. They looked at schools separately, and then one day in October 2007 Minnesota co-head coach Kelly Kremer went to visit them.
“I think that night I had decided to go there, and a few seconds later, (Ashley) decided, too,” said Kristen. “I think we both really liked how the coaches interacted together and how the team really worked together and was just like one big happy family.”
Ashley agreed. “When we were looking at different schools, the coaching here and the team atmosphere was totally different than any of the other schools we visited.”
The fact that they are going to school together has its advantages and disadvantages for the twins.
“A positive thing is, being so far away from home, you do have that family person with you,” said Ashley. Kristen said a negative thing is “when people try and group you together. If somebody gets mad at Ash, they won’t necessarily take it out on me, but they’ll consider me with her most of the time.”
Although they chose the same school and share a special twin-to-twin bond, the Steenvoordens do have different personalities.
“I’m definitely the more laid back one. I talk a lot more,” said Ashley. “We’re both serious when it comes to swimming, but she’s definitely more serious than I am.”
The Steenvoordens and their teammates faced a serious challenge coming into the year. The team lost a senior class that had won 51 All-America honors and nine individual Big Ten titles over four years. But the team did return eleven NCAA Championship competitors, including eight All-Americans.
“We lost a lot of great swimmers in that senior class,” said Ashley, “but everyone’s picked up their game a little bit on this team, because they know they’ve had huge shoes to fill, and I think we’re just as much of a threat as we were last year.”
The Steenvoordens, as two of the team’s NCAA returners, will need to play a key role for the Gophers to continue their success. They believe that competing in the Championships as freshmen has helped them prepare for this season.
“There’s no meet comparable to NCAAs—just being there and seeing all the excitement,” said Ashley. Kristen added, “Having that meet under our belt already gives us confidence going into the season.”
With Big Ten and NCAA championships approaching, the Steenvoordens are setting their goals high.
“We hope that we’ll win the Big Ten Championship with the team,” said Ashley, “and hopefully maybe some individuals as well, and hopefully place top-ten at NCAAs.”
The twins specialize in different areas—Ashley in distance freestyle, and Kristen in the individual medley—but they sometimes swim the same events. This season, Ashley has the team’s best 500 and 1,000 free times, while Kristen has the second best times in both those races. Do the sisters—who started swimming in leagues together at age eight—ever let the competition get fierce?
“No, we don’t have any sort of sibling rivalry,” said Kristen. “I don’t like it when sisters or brothers swim in the same event or play the same sport and they get mad at each other when the other one excels. It doesn’t seem right. We never had that. But that doesn’t mean when we’re swimming that we don’t try to beat each other.”
There will be sisterly competition, but rather than focusing on beating each other, Ashley and Kristen Steenvoorden will focus on beating swimmers from other schools in important conference and national meets. If they can repeat or improve upon their accomplishments from last year, their skills—not just their identical appearances—will have opponents seeing double.
Written by Athletic Communications Student Assistant Justine Buerkle