Twin sisters Emily and Hilary Ziraldo take a break from practice to speak to The Varsity. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

The plastic cast on Hilary Ziraldo’s left arm begins midway on her forearm and extends around her injured thumb. The versatile Varsity Blues defender and midfielder hasn’t played since the preseason, when she suffered a non-sports related injury — accidentally cutting the tendon in her thumb with a knife.

Unable to fully participate in practice, Hilary’s reduced to running wind sprints up and down the sidelines at Back Campus Field while her identical twin sister, Emily, competes in a drill — standing at the top of the circle — and is ready to defend. 

“There’s… an unknown, undetermined healing time. The doctor said three months but that doesn’t align well with the team schedule, so we’re trying to figure something out to get back earlier than that,” Hilary says. “I haven’t really experienced injury too much before and this one’s a little bit frustrating because there’s nothing really wrong with me.”

For Hilary, the toughest part about being injured has been having to sit back and watch, unable to have an impact on the game or provide any significant help to her teammates. Having missed her entire first season due to injury — the same year Hilary earned OUA Rookie of the Year honours — Emily can empathize with her sister’s current perspective.

“It’s hard because I want her to be out there with me and I want to play with her,” Emily said. “I know how badly she wants to be playing and she can’t and I spend so much time with her that it hurts me too.”

As lifelong athletes, the Ziraldo twins were introduced to field hockey by their older sister before entering Bishop Allen Academy, where their sister played. At Bishop they often played the same sports together. “We both did a bunch of sports in high school, we played competitive volleyball when we were in Grade 8 as well, so then we both ran track and field for a few years,” Hillary says.

Hilary’s injury has challenged Emily, who believes playing alongside her sister helps her succeed and that they collectively play at their highest level when they’re on the field together. With recently promoted head coach Cassius Mendonça in charge, and the last season’s leading goalscorer Alison Lee gone, the team is different from last season, when Emily scored a late game-winning goal against Guelph University to extend the Blues field hockey program’s streak to three straight OUA championships, and Hilary scored two goals to earn bronze at the national championships.

“I’m not a prolific goalscorer so its a lot different for me. Coach [DeSouza] put me in forward and it was kind of a risky move,” Emily says. “I swung and it just kind of went in; I was just jumping up and down that was about it… [the goal] wasn’t that great to be honest.”

The disappointment of being just one goal away from playing for a national championship has fuelled the Blues, a team looking to build off past success and to adapt to the voice and style dictated by their new head coach. Emily points to Anna Costanzo as a potential candidate to lead the Blues attack, but she admits the team’s offense is more spread out in comparison to Lee’s 14-goal tally in 2016.

“[Anna’s] a great goal scorer, she and our older forwards like the returning girls are looking to pick that more up and obviously me I play defense and midfield but I’m looking to score more,” Emily says. “We have the talent to do it.”

Both Ziraldo sisters are locked in on the singular goal of winning a national championship.

“For us winning the OUA championships that’s like great, but that’s never the end goal… our team culture is that we expect to win and anything less is disappointing,” Hilary explains.

“I don’t know if I’ve thought about it, neither of us has played in a final… so it’s difficult until then to start thinking about that… before we get there,” Emily adds.

“Those games are pretty tough, each one is kind of the next step, so you have to get over that hill before you can get to the next one,” Hilary added.

Stay up to date. Get breaking news alerts, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required

Tags: