Don’t worry if you do a double take watching UVA’s lacrosse team. You don’t have double vision. There are four sets of brothers on the team this year, including two sets of twins. That may be unprecedented for a men’s NCAA Division I lacrosse team. Joe Finn, the archivist for US Lacrosse—the national governing body for the sport—said he has heard of as many as three brothers playing on the same college team but never four sets of brothers landing on the same squad.
So it must be a challenge for UVA coach Dom Starsia to keep them all straight on the field, right? Yes, he says, particularly when it comes to identical twins Rhamel and Shamel Bratton.
“They are so identical that it is really tricky business with those two,” Starsia says. “I wish they would wear their jersey numbers when they are walking around the hallways sometimes. It would be a help to me.”
But Starsia counts at least one difference that helps him tell the twins apart. Rhamel plays right-handed on the field, while Shamel is a lefty. Plus, Starsia had practice dealing with twins long before the Brattons showed up. The coach has identical twin daughters.
It’s no coincidence that the team includes so many brothers. Starsia said he attempts to recruit them—but only when they fit what the team needs.
“I can’t help every brother and every child of somebody that has been involved in the program,” he said, while emphasizing that he has limited space on his roster of 41 players. “But in situations where it fits for us and it works for us, I am happy to help.”
Those family bonds can bring the team closer together, Starsia says. For example, he can count on players to help get their younger siblings on the right track.
“What has never happened to me is brother and brother against me,” Starsia says. “I will go to the older one and say, ‘Look, your brother is struggling.’ And the older one helps me get that one moved along.”
The athletes say they can attract unwanted attention when their brothers run into trouble.
“If one brother messes up, the other brother is kind of caught in the mix at the same time,” says midfielder Max Pomper, whose younger brother, Brian, plays on the team. “You kind of take the heat together, so I guess it is part of the package deal.”
But Pomper and the other athletes see advantages to having their brothers on the team with them, too. Brothers, for example, know each other’s tendencies on the field, and that can give them an edge.
“You know when to get out of his way and when he is setting up a dodge or when he is looking to feed,” Rhamel Bratton says of his twin, Shamel. “Small things like that help you out on the field.”
Keeping it family-style certainly hasn’t hurt UVA’s ability to win games. The team defeated 2009 NCAA champion Syracuse on March 7 and moved into the nation’s No. 1 spot. Rhamel scored a career-high four goals in that game and was named ACC men’s lacrosse Co-Player of the Week. Starsia says Rhamel’s four goals in that Syracuse game “borders on spectacular.”
Brian Carroll—whose fraternal twin, Kevin, plays on the team—had two goals and an assist in the 11-10 win over the Orange. And in the Cavaliers’ March 16 victory over the University of Vermont Catamounts, Brian found the net an impressive five times.
“Everyone got a lot of good shots on cage,” Brian said of UVA’s win over Syracuse. “I think that was one of the best games that our offense has had so far this season.”
UVA went on to exact a measure of revenge on Cornell on March 13, convincingly beating the Big Red 12-4. Cornell stunned UVA in last year’s NCAA semifinals with a 15-6 victory.
More brothers are in the UVA team’s future. While the team is set to lose graduate student Max Pomper and fourth-years Brian and Kevin Carroll after this season, it will add first-year attackman Matt Cockerton’s younger brother, Mark, in the fall. The team is also set to welcome attackman Pat Glading, the younger brother of former UVA lacrosse standouts Bill and Danny Glading.
“For me, it always has been about family,” Starsia says. “This is a 24/7 job, and my family is part of the program and my program is part of my family. … You get so invested in these families, and when you can keep them involved in the program, it is just a joy. And at the end of the day it makes this all worthwhile.”