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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Sister, Sister

Jameson Clifton

Soccer Profile

Soccer is one of the world’s most popular sports, so it is no surprise to see a number of different faces from different backgrounds playing on the same field. In the case of Mikayla and Mariah Elmer, although the two came from different parents and different parts of the world, they’re not just teammates — they’re also sisters.

Dave and Micki Elmer are parents to eight children, four biological and four adopted.

After having four children of their own, Dave and Micki decided to keep their family growing by adopting. Their first adoption was Ana. Ana was born in Moldova, a small country between Romania and Ukraine. Next were Mariah and Michael. Finally Mikayla joined the family.

“It’s just normal,” Micki said. “After three kids it doesn’t really make any difference how many more kids you have.”

Mikayla was born in China. She was found abandoned at a train station and adopted by a family before being brought to America.

“The little girls are usually given up because when Mikayla was born they were allowed one child, and they usually wanted it to be a boy,” Micki said. “The boy would take their elder parents into his home and take care of them. So girls were harder to have because [the parents] would have nobody to take care of them when they were older. So children, especially little girls, are abandoned all the time.”

When Mikayla was 5 years old, some complications arose with her first adoptive family, and soon the Elmers were the lucky ones to give her a new home.

Growing up with such a big family brings unique challenges, but those didn’t bother either Mikayla or Mariah.

“It was crazy but good,” Mikayla said.

“You are never alone,” Mariah said.

With such a large family, the Elmers needed a big space for all their kids. To accommodate their children, the Elmers moved into an old church. Attached to the church was a gym, which became the perfect place for the Elmer kids to run around. It was in that gym the family discovered Mariah’s athletic ability and where the seeds of Mariah’s front flip soccer ball throw-in were sown.

“She would go in on a treadmill and she would pull herself up and flip herself over and then she would say to her brother, ‘You do it, Mikey,’ and he’d say, ‘No, too hard,’ ” Micki said. “She would do it again and again. She has always just been very athletic and very strong.”

Once Mikayla joined the family, she took part in her brother and sisters’ favorite pastime — sports.

“She took to soccer as if it had been made for her,” Micki said.

Both Mikayla and Mariah played different sports while growing up, but it was obvious that soccer was their shared passion. After junior high the sisters decided soccer would be their main focus.

Mikayla is nine months older than Mariah, which put them in different age groups for youth soccer. Instead of having each girl play on different aged teams, the Elmers decided to just let Mariah play up a year with her sister.

The two sisters played on the same team until Mikayla left for college.

Mikayla went away to Portland for her freshman season, and the pair was separated on the field for the first time. However, the separation was only temporary.

Mariah decided to play her collegiate soccer much closer to the Elmers’ home in Ogden, and her decision brought her sister back. After hearing that her sister was going to play for Utah, Mikayla decided to come home so she could get another chance to play with Mariah.

Having played together their entire lives, the two know everything about each others’ playing styles. Both sisters will agree they each have their own way of playing.

“Mariah is really fast and strong so she can just run through everyone,” Mikayla said.

“Mikayla loves to take people one-on-one. She’s very technical. She is really good with her feet,” Mariah said.

Head coach Rich Manning agrees they have different playing styles, but thinks there are more similarities than what originally meets the eye.

“They are both very deceptive in the other’s strengths,” Manning said. “For instance, Mikayla is very skillful, very technical and very tricky. But she also has a little bit of burst to her. Mariah, you look at her and you go look at the flip throw, look at the speed and look at the power. But she is very clean and technical herself, her touches are good, and she is a smart player. So it’s kind of interesting that they probably have opposite strengths, but they’re each more complete than maybe at first sight you would think.”

Manning’s observation can also be said about the sisters’ appearance. Micki Elmer remembers a time at the beginning of the season when her daughters were asked for some autographs from fans, who were surprised by the sisters’ same last name.

“We actually had somebody come up to us and ask the girls for their autograph,” Micki said. “One of the people mentioned ‘Oh, you guys have the same last name.’ Then one of the girls said ‘Yeah, we are sisters.’ You could see this kind of look like ‘What? You don’t look anything alike.’ It’s kind of the reactions that people get.”

Even though they look different, Micki said they couldn’t be closer as friends and as sisters.

“In every sense of the word they are sisters,” Micki said. “They don’t think of themselves as being adopted or being outside of the family. They think of themselves as sisters. Always.”

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