(FREDERICTON, NB) The Smal sisters have always gone their separate ways. Leah to swimming, and Erin to soccer.
While their chosen sports have always taken them in different directions, those sports have brought them both together, as Reds, at UNB.
Leah has returned to Fredericton after two years at the University of Calgary.
In 2016, as a member of the Dinos, she earned CIS (now U SPORTS) female rookie of the year honours.
She took last season off, but has returned to action this season with the Reds.
Erin is a member of the first-year class with the Reds women’s soccer team.
“I’m glad to have my sister home,” says Erin. “When she was away, I missed her a lot. It’s nice being able to experience university with her.”
Leah, the older of the two, appears to have barely missed a beat in a season away from competitive swimming.
She’s won the women’s 50 metre backstroke at each of the first three meets of the Atlantic University Sport season, and has already qualified for the U SPORTS Championships in four different events.
The elder Smal says being home allows her to focus more on training and competition.
“It’s been a bit of an adjustment in every aspect of my life,” she said. “School, living, friends, and swimming are all very different, but it’s still good.”
As a first-year player, Erin didn’t see any regular season game action in 2018. She did play during the team’s exhibition schedule, and is working hard to earn her way into the line-up next season.
She says her older sister is part of what motivates her.
“Leah has always inspired me to train hard and push myself,” said Erin. “Being the younger sibling, I tend to look up to her, and growing up I always tried to follow in her footsteps. Watching her succeed has always shown me that I’m capable of reaching that level too, and makes me want it more.”
Leah echoes that sentiment.
“Erin’s work ethic and team leadership has always inspired me,” she said. “Her ability to maintain stellar grades and excel on the soccer field, and in her personal life, has always amazed me.”
And while each excels in their chosen sport, neither is willing to trade places.
“I can’t imagine either of us swapping sports,” said Erin. “I think it would be a pretty even match, but I doubt it would be a pretty sight.”
So, while Leah will stick to swimming and Erin will stay with soccer, the pair do train together when they can.
“We go to the gym a bit together and we occasionally run together if we have breaks from our own training,” said Leah. “We are planning to train for a half marathon in the spring together, so that should be fun.”
“She pushes me to be stronger,” said Erin. “We play such different sports that training together is hard to do at times, but I enjoy it when it comes around.”
The benefits don’t end there. They extend to their respective teams.
“You instantly have someone that understands the commitment it takes to perform at the university level,” said Jon Crossland, head coach of UNB’s women’s soccer team.
A former student-athlete, Crossland competed alongside his twin brother Joe, and can appreciate the bond the Smal sisters share.
“You have a training partner to hold you accountable, a sounding board for your feelings, and probably someone that you have the most honest relationship with. You have someone that understands the demands of being a student-athlete. Joe and I played the same sport, so that connection was probably even a bit tighter and were never shy about sharing our thoughts about each other.”
“They’re an athletic family. Growing up with competition in the house is an advantage to any athlete,” said Reds swim team coach Robin Ferdinand. “To share the challenges of being a student-athlete with someone you know and trust is a great situation to be in.”
Leah says she hasn’t played soccer since her days at George Street Middle School, and Erin is quick to admit she isn’t a swimmer. Still, she says she tries give to her big sister as much as she gets from her.
“I guess I try to push Leah by encouraging her to keep up her hard work, but I think she’s a bigger source of inspiration for me than I am for her.”
PHOTO BY: Cameron Fitch/UNB Media Services