As many Virginia fans can attest, on-field success has been a staple of Virginia Athletics in part due to the high standards student-athletes at the University are held to on and off the field. These standards of excellence have materialized into 27 NCAA championships and are a reason why the University is considered to be one of the elite athletic institutions across the U.S.
However, each athlete is more than just a jersey number on the field, throwing touchdowns, scoring goals, winning matches — each athlete has their own story, their own journey and their own desire to be great. In that way, every student-athlete is unique, but in some cases, they are more similar than others — sometimes almost identical at first glance.
Junior squash players Andrew and William Braff share more in common than being the same school year, on the same team and in the same major — they share the same DNA. Born just eight minutes apart — Andrew being the older of the two — the brothers share a connection that most people simply don’t understand.
Andrew and William both grew up playing tennis on Long Island and began venturing into the world of squash soon thereafter. The club that they belonged to offered a squash clinic once a week, and after enrolling, the two quickly fell in love with the sport. Over time, the brothers became stalwarts on the squash court and looked to pursue those passions at the next level.
While squash isn’t necessarily a traditional collegiate sport, the recruiting process remained similar for the Braff brothers, as they received offer letters and talked to coaches from across the country. As the twins looked for a school to take their game to the next level, it just so happened that the Virginia Squash program gained varsity status in 2017, aligning perfectly with their recruiting cycle.
“U.Va. was something we were both really interested in,” Andrew said. “Forget about squash, just academically and culturally … and [Virginia has] such a great reputation.”
Throughout high school, the talks of attending the same school were imminent, as Virginia was both of their top choices throughout the recruiting process, and when offered, their decision was easy.
When first matriculating at Virginia, Andrew and William chose to have separate roommates for their first year, but for the past two years have lived together in an apartment, one they also plan to share next year.
“I’d say Andrew is more laid-back,” William said. “But in general, I’d say we’re pretty similar.”
Beyond their personalities, there is another slight distinction between the two, one which lies on the court.
“We’ve only had one challenge match ever [to move places on the team ladder], and I won,” Andrew said, although in William’s defense, he is currently ahead in team rankings.
On a nicer note, each brother is immensely grateful for the other.
“The healthy competition was great to better each other, whether it be on the court, in school, or just being better people in general,” Andrew said. “We’re on the same team. A win for one of us is a win for the squash team.”
Venturing outside the world of identical twins, junior lacrosse player Olivia Schildmeyer shares a special bond with her fraternal twin sister, Anna. While the aforementioned Braff twins looked identical, lived together, played on the same team and even had the same major, the Schildmeyer twins pride themselves upon being different while still embracing their unique bond.
Olivia, the younger of the two by a margin of two minutes, is an attacker on the lacrosse team at Virginia, while Anna is a student at Georgetown University, just over a two-hour drive away. The sisters have different areas of study as well as differing career interests, as Olivia is a student in the McIntire School of Commerce and Anna is a human science major, hoping to one day practice medicine.
Beyond the classroom, one sister excels at multitasking, while the other is not quite as adept, and one sister has a penchant for needing to be early, while the other would prefer to go with the flow — the specifics have been left out to avoid potential conflict, but each sister knows who is being described very well. However, despite these differences, their special bond is as strong as can be. They’ve grown to learn how to bring out the best in one another from the best source possible — their mother is a twin herself.
Their mother, Karri Schildmeyer of Upper Arlington, Ohio, has gone through life as a twin, and often shares what she has learned with her two daughters. Jerry Schildmeyer, Olivia and Anna’s father, uses adjectives such as “self-confident, reserved and introverted” to describe Anna and characteristics such as “empathetic, social, equitable and generous” to describe Olivia.
While, of course, their personalities contrast, their college decision process was fairly similar despite ultimately ending up at two different universities. Their decisions to choose what school that they would attend were actually nearly identical — both Olivia and Anna shared the same grade point average and ACT score when applying.
When it came to deciding schools, Olivia chose to become a student-athlete at Virginia.
“Our parents wanted us to go see new things and to try new things,” Olivia said when asked about her decision to attend school in Charlottesville — a six-and-a-half-hour drive away from her hometown.
Anna, on the other hand, despite being involved with athletics her entire life, chose to attend Georgetown, and in her free time, plays club lacrosse. In addition, she spent this entire school year abroad studying at Oxford University, where she was a member of their lacrosse team, which was a national semi-finalist in the British Universities and Colleges Sport, the British version of the NCAA.
“It was so great because I met a ton of British friends that way,” Anna said. “I also got to see all of the United Kingdom when we traveled.”
When asked about the major key difference between the two twins — the fact that Olivia is an NCAA Division 1 athlete — one point of conversation was the decision of their younger sister, Ellena, to join Olivia on the Virginia women’s lacrosse team.
“I always regretted not playing an NCAA sport,” Anna said. “I was so used to having a team and all of those friends, and I think that’s what tipped [Ellena] over the edge and say, ‘Yeah, I do want to play.’”
With another Schildmeyer coming to Charlottesville this fall, the sisters are grateful for how it all turned out. Though two sisters will be together in Virginia, with the other just a few hours away, the appreciation of communication remains essential to their family.
“We definitely text every day, and we FaceTime a lot,” Olivia said.
And while just over 100 miles separate the two, the special relationship that these twins have knows no distance.
Although twins account for just three percent of the U.S. population, even within this small percentage, there is a whole world of individuality. While this may seem to contradict the meaning of the word “twin,” each of these sibling pairs has learned to show their own true colors. But regardless of whether they hold onto their similarities or differences, one thing always remains true — they embrace and have a full appreciation for their unique relationship.