By Deborah Cabanos, Guest Writer
Identical twins Kiana and Shanell Sullenberger share a lot more than the same face. They share passion for the sport of swimming.
The twins, juniors who transferred from Washington State University, joined Pacific Lutheran University’s swim team this year for the Northwest Conference winter sport season.
Both women started swimming when they were 11 years old.
Their dad, who swam for West Point, encouraged both of the women to try swimming.
After giving it a try, they liked it, so they decided to stick with it.
“For a short time, our dad was always our primary coach,” Shanell said. “He took us to most meets when we weren’t on a swim club.”
The twins joined Thurston Olympians Swim Club to progress with swimming.
When they reached high school, they swam for River Ridge High School, all while balancing track and field.
Together they hold 10 out of 12 school records at River Ridge.
With their talent in swimming, both Kiana and Shanell signed letters of intent to swim at WSU.
However, after two years of swimming at WSU did not yield the improvements they wanted to see, the Sullenberger twins started looking for a school they could transfer to.
They remembered Lutes swim coach Matt Sellman from their senior year in high school.
“His program after the last two years demonstrated how good of a coach he was,” Shanell said.
Both girls have seen a lot of improvement under his wing.
They are already swimming faster than they did at the PAC-12 swimming championships last year.
“The program is really stroke oriented, so we get a lot of stroke work, not just freestyle,” Kiana said.
The varied approach to training has helped, and Shannell even won the Northwest Conference Women’s Swimming Student-Athlete of the Week award after her performances at the NWC Relays in Salem, Ore. and the NWC Sprints in McMinnville, Ore. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, respectively.
Last weekend, they added more wins to their impressive swimming feats.
Swimming in Oregon against Linfield College on Nov. 14, the pair won two races each.
Shanell won the 50 free and 100 free while Kiana won the 100 back and 100 breast.
The following day, against Williamette University, both contributed to win the 400 medley.
Despite being competitors, the sisters love swimming with and against each other.
“In the end, [Kiana] will always be my built in training partner,” Shanell said. “I want to win with her and if I lose, she makes it okay.”
They also push each other, which is why both of them are so successful.
“[Shanell] always pushes when I’m running out of steam, and no matter what, she always has my back,” Kiana said.
Based on the team’s recent 4-0 record in NWC, the pair have potential to be important swimmers for the Lutes this season.
The fact that they see the other swimmers as family, both women said the transition to PLU has been incredibly easy.
Practically thinking in unison, the Sullenbergers agree, “[PLU] is such a healthy and happy environment which makes our 5:45 a.m. workouts worth it, because it’s like we’ve gained 40 brothers and sisters,” Shannell said. ◼︎