Sisters face off on soccer field for last time

The Owls earned a 3-1 win against Rider University at the Temple Sports Complex on Thursday to improve their record to 2-3.

Forward Kayla Cunningham, pictured during her redshirt-junior season, dribbles the ball in the Owls’ 1-0 loss to Connecticut at the Temple Sports Complex on Oct. 22, 2016. She attempted two shots in Temple's loss to St. Joseph's on Friday. GENEVA HEFFERNAN / FILE PHOTO

As the first second ticked off the clock in the nonconference matchup between Temple and Rider University, it marked the beginning of the final game that Temple redshirt-senior forward Kayla Cunningham and Rider junior forward Kourtney Cunningham would play on the same field.

“Being on the field with her is an awesome experience,” Kayla said. “I wish she had the same jersey on as me, but most people don’t get to say that they played with or against their sibling in college.”

The sisters have been playing soccer with or against each other their entire lives. Kayla and Kourtney played soccer and field hockey at Whitehall High School in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania together for two years before Kayla graduated in 2013 and began her field hockey career at Indiana University Bloomington.

After one season at Indiana, Kayla transferred to Temple to play soccer. Kourtney graduated high school in 2015 and continued her soccer career at Rider. The sisters faced each other in three regular season games and one spring game.

Temple earned victories in all three regular season games against Rider. The Owls and Broncs have squared off the past three years with Temple winning 2-1 in 2015, 1-0 in 2016 and 3-1 Thursday. The win bumped the Owls’ record up to 2-3. 

“There’s definitely a competitiveness of who’s going to win and who’s not going to win,” Kourtney said. “In the end, we always support each other and I wish her the best of luck in every single game she plays.”

Kayla and Kourtney’s parents, Tim and Tammi Cunningham, along with other family members, were in the stands Thursday to watch the final showdown between the two sisters.

“We knew going in that this would be the last time,” Tim said. “They enjoyed playing against each other. Either way we get a winner.”

Knowing that Thursday was the last time Kayla and Kourtney would play against each other allowed the Cunningham family to appreciate the moment, especially for Kayla.

“It was a relief knowing that this would be my last game with her,” Kayla said as she held back tears. “In high school, that final game was the last one and I didn’t know.”

In Kayla’s senior year of high school, Kourtney tore her ACL early in the soccer season, her parents  said. Kayla never got the chance to have a true final game while playing alongside her sister, which made Thursday’s final game against Kourtney even more special, she said.

“We’re fortunate enough to look up into the stands and know that they’re there,” Kayla said of her parents. “The amount of games they’ve been to is unreal.”

“I think it’s very exciting for them to watch us both play at the same time,” Kourtney said. “Our parents are very supportive. They come to every single game.”

Kayla and Kourtney’s parents remained neutral Thursday, as neither wore Temple or Rider gear. But Kourtney did mention how her grandmother wore a shirt with Temple on the front and Rider on the back.

Thursday’s game was about more than winning or losing for the Cunninghams.

“Seeing her after the game and giving her a hug is something I will always remember,” Kayla said.

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