Entering the season as one of the youngest teams in the Big West, the UCSB women’s soccer team has matured into a serious contender this year thanks in large part to the veteran play of two junior Gauchos in the backline. Twin sisters Lindsay and Paige Gankema’s breakout seasons have brought experience and stability to a Gaucho defense that looks to make a final playoff push as the end of the season approaches.

Teammates on the field and family off of it, Lindsay and Paige have started every conference game this season for the Gauchos and have developed into their role of everyday starters for the team.

“This is their breakout year for both of them; neither of them have played as much as they have this year,” Head Coach Paul Stumpf said. “They were patient and opportunistic with their chances, now they’re playing well enough to have a nice firm grip on their roles, which are basically on the field as starters.”

As the Gankema twins played together at virtually every single level of competition, UCSB seemed to be the ideal fit for each sister as early as their freshman year in high school. They showed off their footwork at UCSB’s summer soccer camp and impressed the coaching staff with their intelligence and skill.

“We saw them play a few times, then they came to our summer camp and it was at that camp that they convinced us that we needed to go after them,” Stumpf said. “They’re really intelligent soccer players, very skilled soccer players. They’re not the most imposing players on the face of the planet, but they maximize what they do have.”

Despite winning various championships at the club level together and each winning various awards and accolades, success was not always the case for the Gankema sisters. Each struggled with assimilating to their individual roles early in their collegiate careers. In the first two seasons, both players combined for a total of only one start.

“Before we became freshmen, we played every single minute of every single game. We were starters, we were the best in the team,” Paige said. “But once you come here, you’re trying to compete with other girls that are the best on the team. So it’s just hard to be a full-time player and being a superstar in the club team, and then coming in and not being able to play and not starting.”

Things were especially difficult for Lindsay, who despite playing in 12 games last season, had to see Paige on the sideline for most of the season as she played in only one game in 2011.

“It was difficult because our whole lives, we always played exactly at the same time, we played the whole game,” Lindsay said. “It was different to see [Paige] out when I played, and I felt bad, but coaches, in the end, decide.”

Patience and persistence paid off for both sisters as their hard work in practice was finally recognized at the start of this season and has led to an increase in playing time for the two Gauchos.

“I think they’ve started or played in almost every game, so it’s great for them; they put in their time on the bench doing almost everything right,” Stumpf said. “Now their opportunity arises and I think they’re grabbing that opportunity with two hands and holding on. They are mentally tough and physically tough, so I’m really kind of proud of kids like that.”

Now, having the opportunity to play on the field at the same time once again, the two players have helped the defense with their established chemistry and sixth sense of knowing where the other sister is on the field at all times.

“We just work well together, we kind of know exactly how each other plays, what to expect from each other, where I’m going to go, where she’s going to go,” Paige said. “We can kind of tell beforehand what’s going to happen — if she’s going to win the ball, that kind of thing. It’s fun getting to play with your sister, there’s nothing better than that.”

Despite being born only 17 minutes apart — Lindsay being the oldest — you will be hard-pressed to find any sibling rivalry existing between the two defenders, as they are each other’s biggest supporters on and off the field.

“We’re always there for each other, so I would say [our relationship] is the same off and on the field,” Lindsay said. “We’re best friends. I consider her more my friend than my sister because we’re always together and we’re always hanging out; we do everything together.”