It’s one thing for a pair of twins to go to the same college. It’s another for them to play the same sport at the same college. But that’s the reality for Ben and Brie Norton.
The two siblings, who graduated from Elizabethtown Area High School in 2016, are key fixtures on both volleyball teams at Cairn University in suburban Philadelphia. As a junior this year, Brie started all but one game for the Highlanders’ women’s team. Ben had a similar sophomore campaign for the men’s team last season, starting 24 of the team’s 28 matches. In spite of busy schedules on the court and in the classroom, however, they’ve somehow found time to stay connected.
“We spend time together a few times a week, and it varies from seeing each other in the halls, around the gym, or even in class, as we have taken a few classes together,” Ben said. “It has been fun going to college together, and we both enjoy it. Whether studying together for class or playing volleyball together, it has been nice to have Brie at Cairn.”
“Yeah, going to the same school is fun,” Brie said. “We hang out a couple times a week like Ben said. We also have classes together because we are both business administration majors. We choose to sit next to each other and work together on our homework. Attending the same school has allowed us to stay close friends. We love being twins!”
While the two currently have eerily similar roles on Cairn’s volleyball teams, they had markedly different starts. Brie was a starter from day one for the Highlanders and immediately made an impact, ranking highly on the team in kills (fourth, 55), service aces (third, 25) and digs (second, 150), though Cairn was near the bottom of the CSAC with a 4-18 record.
“I remember my freshman year we had a very small roster and struggled through our fall season,” she said. “Some of our players suffered injuries, so we had even fewer numbers as they took time to recover during our season. When it came around to the offseason, we only had two healthy players! Luckily, we were able to bring more players in my sophomore year. That allowed us to compete through our traditional season and participate in an effective offseason.”
That hard work has started to pay off for Cairn. The Highlanders improved to 7-18 in 2017 and 7-17 this season, just one spot out of the CSAC playoffs. Brie’s stats have stayed steady as well; she led Cairn in service aces with 39 last year and ranked in the top four of kills, assists, digs and aces each year. As a result of her efforts, she was named as a team captain this year and will likely keep that title in 2019.
“My role has definitely shifted each year as we have gained new talent on our team,” Brie said. “During the rebuilding time, I took on any position I needed to in order to make the team competitive in the CSAC. The experience I gained at E-Town and (with) Central Penn Volleyball Club trained me well in every position, so I was able to play every role on my college team. Playing multiple roles has made me a stronger strategic player because I was faced against girls that trained in their position their whole career.”
Meanwhile, Ben’s career at Cairn didn’t start with the same certainty as his sister’s. While he did play in 25 of the team’s 31 games, he only had 5 starts, and as a result, wasn’t able to make a significant impact statistically. The Highlanders also struggled in the Continental Volleyball Conference, going just 4-27.
“All players strive for the starter positions, and as a freshman, I was working for that as well,” Ben said. “A senior leader on our team at the time was the outside hitter so I knew that I had a position to work for going into my sophomore year. Going from the bench to a starter is a great feeling but comes with a lot of responsibility as you are now a leader and key part in in the team’s success and the pressure certainly comes along with.”
However, things changed dramatically for both he and his team last season. Cairn was able to go 11-17, while Ben began to carve out a similar output to Brie. He finished second on the team in kills (95), as well as third in assists (29) and digs (150). Helping him out along the way was Juston Wolgemuth, a senior at Cairn who was a member of Elizabethtown’s Class of 2013 and has played alongside Ben in some form since the two were in high school.
“Playing with Juston for so long has been great,” Ben said. “Our longstanding teammate relationship has certainly helped the team chemistry, and it has been great to constantly learn from him on the court.”
The Nortons credit their time at Elizabethtown as a major part of their current success at the collegiate level. They also have their eyes on the future as well; both plan to get married after graduating from college (Ben currently is engaged) and hope to work in business (Brie mentioned finding a job in the Lancaster area). Still, there’s plenty more to do on the court for both of them before their Highlanders teams are true stalwarts in their respective conferences. If all goes according to plan, Ben and Brie will definitely be key parts of that resurgence.
“Our team has made steady improvements and we are so close to competing in the CSAC playoffs,” Brie said. “I think as our team gains more experienced players, they will add to that strategic mindset we are developing. Our team has the passion for the game, but the winning mindset is what we need to advance past our regular season.”
“The team’s great improvement from freshman to sophomore year was largely due to the overall team experience growing,” Ben said. “We had a very young team my freshman year and as we all gained a year of experience and practice that greatly improved our team in all areas. (My) goals going forth for my senior year would be becoming a leader on the team and help the team continue to improve, as well as being an example to the younger players on the team.”