For two years there were 2,063 miles that separated Taryn and Tayler Francel after Taryn left home in San Diego for Madison to begin her collegiate soccer career.
In 2009, the distance between the two sisters was shortened to 268 miles when Tayler arrived in West Lafayette, Ind., to embark on her soccer career at conference rival Purdue.
Never mind the miles in between or the colors of the jerseys they wear, the Francel sisters’ friendship, bonded in blood, has proven to withstand the obstacles.
Friday, in West Lafayette, their respective schools will bring the two sisters at odds on the soccer pitch for both teams’ Big Ten opener. And although Taryn, a senior, and Tayler, a sophomore, may have to set their relationship aside for a few hours, there’s no doubt that it will pick up right where it left off once the final whistle sounds.
“I don’t mean to sound cliché, but they are the best of friends,” father Ed Francel, 53, said. “It’s almost uncomfortable sometimes — between Taryn and Tayler, it’s just incredible how they get along.”
“It’s funny because I know for about three hours of that day on Friday, they’re going to flip a switch and it’s going to get competitive. I guarantee you, they will do anything they can to benefit their team and when they’re done they’ll probably hug each other in the middle of the field for 10 minutes because they’re really close.”
Raised in San Diego by their parents Ed and Candace, 51, Taryn and Tayler first began playing soccer at age four.
A few years later, Taryn and Tayler, who both play defense, were awarded spots on the San Diego Surf Soccer Club, one of the more prominent clubs in California. From there, Ed and Candace readily shuttled their two daughters on the hour drive to practice five days a week as well as whatever weekend commitments the club demanded.
Separated by two years of age, the two sisters never played on the same team until they both began playing for Granite Hills High School. It was there where the friendship began to blossom to the point where today both sisters call the other their best friend and speak on the phone as often as possible.
“That was, I think, when we got really close,” Tayler said. “Playing with each other on the field got us to learn a lot about each other, and we helped each other out.”
“That was really fun (playing with each other), except she kind of had to, I guess, learn to take my constructive criticism,” Taryn said.
“You know, since I’m the older sister and I’m allowed to say such things,” she joked.
As Taryn departed for Wisconsin, Tayler entered her junior year of high school and speculation within the family increased as to which school she would attend.
Wisconsin, however, was not among the several schools that showed interest. As she investigated other schools, Taryn followed along from Madison and admits that at the time she never imagined the possibility of her sister playing in the same conference as herself.
Unbeknownst to Taryn, in spring 2008 Tayler and Ed decided to pay a visit to Purdue, but not without first demonstrating just how close the two sisters would be if Tayler were to choose the Boilermakers.
“I knew they were interested in her but I didn’t even know [Tayler] was going to visit Purdue,” Taryn said. “It was freshman year, right before our first spring game and my Dad and her showed up knocking on my dorm room door the morning of my first spring game and told me they were going to go visit Purdue the next day, but they stopped to come surprise me before.”
That day set a precedent for the two Big Ten soccer players. Ever since Tayler completed the move to Purdue, the two have taken turns driving the five hours to visit the other for a weekend during the offseason.
“When we get free weekends from soccer one of us will try to come down,” Tayler said. “A couple girls here have friends on that team, so we all make the drive together and hang out.”
Over the past few years, the two have reconvened in the Francel home in San Diego to train and attend therapy together, although sometimes the sisters refrain from running with each other, as it sometimes “turns into a race” according to Taryn. This past summer, the two sisters relived their high school years, reuniting as teammates for San Diego United, a semi-pro club of the Women’s Premier League.
Even during the season, the two do not hesitate from giving or asking the other for advice over the phone — as long as they aren’t playing against each other.
“I talk to [Taryn] before big games here sometimes and she’ll text me ‘good luck,’ ‘I’m proud of you,’” Tayler said. “We like encouraging each other, but helping each other on Friday won’t happen.”
Taryn subscribes to that very same attitude. When asked if she would text her sister on game day, she quickly threw out the idea of wishing Tayler good luck.
“There’s going to be no ‘good luck’ — absolutely not,” Taryn said. “But all I’ll say is probably, ‘See you on the field.”
As a freshman last year, Tayler only saw playing time in four matches and never made it onto the pitch for the game against Wisconsin that resulted in a 1-1 draw. This time around, Tayler has appeared in all 10 of Purdue’s games and will certainly take the field for the 11th.
No matter the outcome though, Tayler expects things to return to normal once the game ends.
“For me, I think it’ll be easy once the game’s over,” she said. “There’s going to be some tension, and each of us wants to win so bad. We’re both really competitive.”
“Of course, after the game we’re going to hang out with the family and friends and talk. She’s still my sister, so I think we’ll be fine.”