The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Two can play this game

For the last four years, senior midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton have thrilled Virginia fans with their impressive on-field play. But there is more than meets the eye when it comes to these two flashy stars. Here are some little-known facts about the standout tandem.

Rhamel and Shamel Bratton do not have a sibling rivalry. It's not hard to see why they might, though. The twins are the same height, go to the same school and will graduate with degrees from the same department. They play the same position in the same sport. Comparisons between the two are only natural, and competitive people typically like to be viewed favorably in such comparisons. After all, they were ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects coming out of high school, so someone had to be second.

But that's not the way the Virginia men's lacrosse team's star midfielders look at it. They might "chirp at each other" on the field, as Rhamel put it, but the two do not want Virginia fans to mistake on-field interactions for tension. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

"We build off of each other's energy," Shamel said.

Shamel pointed to the Cavaliers' comeback victory against Cornell earlier this month to illustrate the on-field connection between he and his brother. Virginia and Cornell were all knotted up entering the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers needed an offensive boost from the twins.

"That probably was my worst game this year," Shamel said. "I [wasn't] shooting well. I had eight to 10 shots and hadn't hit the cage once. And then we do this crazy play ... Rhamel makes this spectacular behind-the-back goal, number two on SportsCenter. When I see that, I'm like, 'OK, we're up by one in the fourth quarter. I've gotta help. What can I do to help?' Then I finally get my goal."

Shamel's score came just more than a minute after his brother's and put the Cavaliers ahead by two goals - the winning margin.

Rhamel believes that one reason that the two were set on playing together in college was because they make each other better, and his brother echoed that sentiment.

"It's not me trying to top him," Shamel insisted. "Some people see it as a competition between us. No [that's not it]."

Instead, the Bratton brothers save their competitive energy to use against opposing teams. Their ability to avoid sibling confrontation has helped them brush off all the challenges that came with being teenage sensations while remaining as close as ever.

Rhamel and Shamel Bratton were not destined to play lacrosse. The Brattons played many sports growing up, and they discovered lacrosse by accident.

"My best friends, who are also twins, had a birthday party ... going into fourth grade or something," Rhamel said. "They had lacrosse sticks, and that's when I first started playing the game."

The brothers began playing competitively the following spring. Lacrosse did not come easily for the brothers, and they experienced growing pains while learning the intricacies of the sport.

Despite the initial struggles, Rhamel said that lacrosse became his favorite sport after his first season of play. He and his brother continued to practice together every day, even in the winter.

The Huntington Station, N.Y. natives also tried their hands at football and basketball growing up. The Brattons continued to play both basketball and football in high school, and believe that the skills they acquired on the court and on the gridiron have translated to the lacrosse field.

"I always say the half-field of lacrosse is basically basketball with just another guy and a cage to shoot at," Rhamel said. "All the motions are pretty much the same - making space, setting picks."\nThe brothers had offers to play football and lacrosse from some schools, but they opted to focus just on lacrosse.

"Football seems to be a lot of work," Rhamel said. "They've got 6 a.m. practices out here this spring, so it'd be difficult."

Rhamel's good friend, former Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich, tried to convince the brothers to try out for wide receiver roles on the Virginia football team early in their careers. But Rhamel and Shamel did not find football to be as enjoyable as lacrosse, a sport in which they can interact more on the field and exhibit imagination.

"Lacrosse lets your personality come out more than any other sport," Shamel said. "You see guys who are good at lacrosse - they may not be in the best of shape, they may not be the fastest, they may not be the strongest. Yet for some reason, they can play this game. And if you've got the athletic ability and you're letting your personality come out, that's when you really..."

He smiled as his voice trailed off.

Rhamel and Shamel Bratton do not have to be the stars. During their first year at Long Island's Huntington High School in New York, only one freshman made the varsity team - and it was not either one of the Bratton brothers.

Instead, high school coach Paul McDermott chose good friend Zach Howell, now a standout senior attackman at Duke, to move up to the varsity level and left the twins on the junior varsity squad until the playoffs. "Were they ready to go up that year? Physically they were," McDermott said. "Maturity-wise, I felt it was better to leave them on the JV for one more year."

And even after the brothers joined the varsity the following year, they did not start right away.

"They played the second middies for two years and didn't care," McDermott said. "They never asked, 'How many goals did I have and how many assists did I have?' after the game. They just wanted to win."

McDermott could see their talent right away, though. He was impressed with how well the twins clicked together and how they instinctively fed off of one another. "It wasn't taught, it was within them," McDermott said.

Their ability to rack up high assists and goal totals while still displaying a selfless tendency to share the ball impressed future coach Dom Starsia, as well.

"Rhamel and Shamel create space for everybody else," Starsia said. "[But] the piece that gets underappreciated with them is how smart lacrosse players they are. It may be that they're so athletic that it kind of dazzles people ... but they don't get enough credit for their lacrosse IQ."

Rhamel and Shamel Bratton have not let the attention bother them. That might be their most impressive feat of all, because there has been a lot of publicity to ignore. By the time the Brattons stepped foot in Charlottesville, they had already appeared on the cover of Inside Lacrosse magazine and had been profiled in The New York Times.

It is understandable how all that attention could get overwhelming for two 18-year-old kids.

"It's only human nature," McDermott said. "It may have peeked its head out once or twice."

According to Rhamel, the team's inflated confidence contributed to the end of Huntington's 63-game win streak in the semifinal round of the playoffs during the brothers' senior year. The untimely loss prevented Rhamel and Shamel's team from earning its third straight state title.

"We definitely learned that you don't just show up and get the win," Rhamel said. "At the end of that run, we kind of felt like we were just beating teams before we even got to the field. That humbled us a bit coming into freshman year of college. It helped a tremendous amount."

Now in their fourth year at Virginia, the Bratton brothers still garner national attention. But the two believe that the expectations that accompany the media's attention are not nearly as demanding as those the brothers place on themselves. "Rhamel and I put more pressure on ourselves than anyone could," Shamel said. "Those things kind of just don't bother us."

While McDermott indicated that the Bratton brothers allowed the spotlight to shine on his program as a whole, Starsia has taken issue with some of the coverage of the Brattons' careers. "I don't think it has affected the boys as much as it's affected me at times," Starsia said. "People can be so critical. They're just two young guys trying to play college lacrosse. So for me, they're splendid college lacrosse players, but for some of the public, they couldn't have possibly met the expectation that was created ... Their reputation preceded them by a long shot."

But Starsia believes that Rhamel and Shamel have done a good job overall at maintaining a positive level of maturity in this difficult media environment.

"The world has changed so much in lacrosse just in the last 10 years, [and] everything is so overhyped," Starsia said. "The television of our games and the printed publications are now a piece of it. [Shamel and Rhamel] sort of came in at a time when all that was hitting the fan, so to speak."

Rhamel and Shamel Bratton might never get another chance to win a title together. Major League Lacrosse held its draft in January for the first time this year, so the graduating seniors were drafted before their final season. The Boston Cannons grabbed Shamel with the fourth overall pick, while Rhamel's hometown Long Island Lizards selected him in the third round.

According to Cannons' coach Bill Daye, both have very bright professional futures in what he calls "a midfielder's game." He is especially excited to mentor Shamel in the next year.

"I feel his impact has been great on the sport of lacrosse," Daye said in an e-mail. "He serves as a role model for the younger generation of lacrosse players. Shamel's potential is off the charts as far as I am concerned."

With graduation looming in the not-so-distant future, both Shamel and Rhamel are aware that they soon will be heading down separate paths for the first time in their lives. This season might mark their last opportunity to play together on the same midfield line.

But before they depart for the professional ranks, the Bratton brothers are concentrating on securing their first national title after coming up short in the NCAA semifinals during the past three seasons.

The Cavaliers currently sport a 7-1 record and are ranked No. 2 nationally. Virginia's lone loss came at then-No.1 Syracuse in the Brattons' second contest back from a one-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Since their return, they have helped fuel the country's top-scoring offense.

The brothers want to win for all of their teammates, but they especially would like to go out on top with senior goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman. Ghitelman played lacrosse with Shamel and Rhamel before all three signed on to play at Virginia.

"We committed on the same night," Shamel recalled. "The first person that we decided to call when we committed wasn't Dom. It was Adam. We called him and we [were] like, 'Listen, man, you're already there. We've weighed our options ... We've been playing with you our whole lives. Let's go down there and ride to Charlottesville with you. Let's do it!' Then we called Dom."

Four years later, the Brattons are more motivated than ever to make the most of their swan song at Virginia.

"This could quite possibly be the last year we're playing together, so we're going to give it our all," Rhamel said.


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.