Twin sisters Ally and Ashley Wiitala have done their part to make Wayzata High School girls’ hockey coach Becky Wacker’s job easier this season. Because the senior forwards are both wearing their hair in braids, it will be easier to see the numbers on the back of their uniforms—sometimes the only way the coach can tell them apart.
When their long hair makes it difficult to distinguish their uniform numbers (8 and 18), “the coach gets mixed up and has no idea who we are,” Ally says. The ½-inch difference in height between the girls (Ally is the taller one) isn’t enough to distinguish them, either.
Once again this season, the Wayzata team is the only one in its conference with the added advantage of what Ally and Ashley call “twin telepathy.” Playing on the same line as they have through most of their youth and school hockey careers, “We always know where the other one is on the ice,” Ashley says.
The twins inherited their hockey interest from their father, Wade Wiitala, who played hockey through his high school years in his hometown of Superior, Wis. Their mother, Deb, was also an athlete, playing volleyball, basketball and softball all through high school and softball in college. Wade, a self-employed certified public accountant and his wife, a teacher, moved to the Twin Cities in 1989. According to the twins, they also developed their interest in chasing pucks by watching their older brother, Derek, who played organized hockey from age 4 through his years at Breck High School.
Since the twins joined the Wayzata mites at age 5, they’ve played on the same team every season except two: Ashley made a U10 team that Ally didn’t make and Ally made a U14 team that Ashley didn’t make. They’ve also nearly always been line-mates (Ashley on left wing and Ally at center), except for brief periods when coaches temporarily put them on separate lines.
The girls have played other sports: lacrosse in fifth through ninth grades, middle school volleyball and basketball, and they’ve run track the past two seasons. But hockey remains their first love. The twins have been playing year-round since age 10, when their father started a AAA-level girls’ team called the Minnesota Fighting Saints to play in spring and summer tournaments. Most recently, they prepared for their senior season at Wayzata by playing in the Fall Minnesota Premier Prep League.
Drawn to the sport’s fast-paced action, both girls are competitive by nature, on and off the ice, Ally says. Their parents say Ally is more of a playmaker and passer, with Ashley scoring more of the goals. “But Ally talks more than I do,” Ashley notes.
Opponents and coaches aren’t the only ones who sometimes become confused. Even their mother occasionally has trouble telling them apart. “There are times when I call one of them the wrong name or think that one has scored a goal, only to find out it was the other one,” Deb says. “I can’t let them know that, or they’ll get mad at me!”
Of course, off the ice, there are other reasons to enjoy being twins. “We always have someone to hang out with and always have someone who we can relate to,” Ally says. “And, this year, we have all the same classes, so it’s easier to do homework and study for tests.”
Any drawbacks? As you might guess, “People are always mixing us up,” Ally says. The fact that the twins are both competitive people could potentially cause interpersonal discord, but it hasn’t yet.
According to Deb, the twins have similar personalities, enjoy the same activities and same foods, and share the same group of friends. “I’ve witnessed the close bond they share,” Deb Wiitala says. “It carries over to their playing styles, because they are always looking out for each other, on and off the ice. They both celebrate each other’s successes.”
The twins also enjoy working out at Life Time Fitness in Minnetonka and Pellicano Endurance Training in Minneapolis, and working at the Wayzata Country Club as women’s locker room attendants. And, of course, there’s always hanging out with their friends, when they have free time.
Like most hockey parents, the Wiitalas have invested countless hours—and a few bucks—supporting their daughters. “It’s nice that they’re on the same team; that way, it’s just one car ride, there and back,” Wade says. One season when the girls were in fifth grade, they played on three different hockey teams, and Wade logged enough miles to work for Yellow Cab. “That was kind of rough,” he admits. The parents have made “a lot of trips to Duluth” through the years for tournaments, Deb Wiitala adds.
But the Wiitalas also appreciate the friendships they’ve developed with other hockey parents whose daughters have played in the same youth hockey program since age 4. Deb Wiitala says she appreciates living in the Plymouth–Wayzata area, because it reminds her of the small Wisconsin town she grew up in. “It’s very family-oriented and is a close-knit community. No matter where you go, you will always run into someone you know. I love that.”
And as with many organized team sports, the Wiitalas say their daughters’ hockey involvement has yielded benefits off the ice. “It keeps them motivated—they are both good students—and has taught them how to balance [various activities] and manage their time,” Deb says.
Ashley agrees that “playing hockey has helped us become more disciplined and focused,” she says, “by making us manage our time between hockey and school.” In sync with the identical-twins theme, they both like math and carry the same 3.95 GPA. Each plans to pursue a business degree starting next fall at Concordia College.
And, of course, they will also find time to keep playing the game they love, in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
(Ally and Ashley congratulate each other after scoring a goal as part of the Minnesota Fighting Saints AAA team during this past off-season; Photo courtesy of the Wiitala family)