Sept. 4, 2009

By Amy Farnum

Rachel, Erin and Tara Jennings are following similar paths in college, but the triplet sisters have each found different places to take that journey.  

The sophomore field hockey players from Macungie, Pa., attend school at three of the top 10 programs in the nation – Rachel at No. 6 Virginia, Erin at No. 7 Princeton and Tara at No. 10 Duke – and are each finding their individuality at their respective institutions.

The Jennings sisters began playing field hockey in the seventh grade, but were not particularly happy about it about first.  

“Our high school is a field hockey powerhouse,” said Erin.  “My dad really wanted us to get into it, so he took us to a couple field hockey games, and we hated it and thought it was so boring.  But then our gym teacher in seventh grade suggested we sign up for field hockey because the high school coach wanted good girl athletes to play.”

The trio found that they did enjoy the sport, and eventually played for the extremely successful Emmaus High School squad, which won three Pennsylvania state championships while the Jennings’ were team members.

“Once we got to high school it got a lot more serious because our program was really intense,” said Erin.  “We were really successful in high school, and we came to really love it.”

When it came time to start looking at colleges, all three began looking at the same types of schools – those with good academics and good field hockey programs on beautiful campuses – but they all knew they did not want to end up at the same place.

“We grew up in the same room – there were three of us in this little, tiny room,” said Tara.  “We were just on top of each other all the time.  We figured that we had 18 years of being with each other and it was time to find ourselves and become independent people – not just be known as the triplets.”

Tara attended field hockey camp at Duke University the summer before her junior year of high school, and knew immediately that Durham was the place for her.  She committed to the school that fall, taking Duke off the list for Erin and Rachel.  Erin was interested in an Ivy League education, and found Princeton was the right fit, while Rachel liked the balance of athletics and academics at the University of Virginia.

The sisters agree that venturing off from the group has been the best thing for them individually, and as a whole.

“Being away from each other has brought us a lot closer together,” said Tara.  “I really appreciate my relationship with them.  They are always there for me, they are my best friends.  I don’t know if that would have happened if we all stayed together.  We were definitely ready to separate.”

“It’s definitely been really different,” said Rachel.  “We were so competitive and we fought so much in high school.  It’s made our relationship better – we’re not as annoyed by each other.”

The triplets not only share a competitive spirit and talent for field hockey, but are also interested in the field of medicine and are each pre-med at their respective schools.  Their parents, Dr. John and Dr. Beth Jennings, have been a huge influence as they grew up around the office and the hospital, even working in their father’s office as teenagers.  
Dr. John Jennings, a reconstructive plastic surgeon, and Dr. Beth Jennings, a former general surgeon, are not only supportive in their daughters’ academic pursuits, but are big fans of the triplets’ field hockey careers.

“Once we get all of our schedules, our parents sit down and split up every weekend to come watch us,” said Tara.  “It depends on big games.  When we (Duke) plays North Carolina, one of them will definitely come down – they won’t miss that.  Two of us get to set our parents every weekend.”

Tara also receives support from older brother Jason, a senior at Duke, who will be applying to medical school this year.

“Last weekend, Mom went to Virginia on Friday, Duke on Saturday, back to UVa on Sunday,” said Rachel.  “It’s awesome that they support us so much.  We couldn’t ask for more.”

The Jennings sisters talk on the phone or video chat daily, and swap stories about their team’s practice or games throughout the season, but occasionally there is a little more sibling rivalry than usual, especially when Atlantic Coast Conference foes Duke and Virginia play during the regular season.

“It’s a huge rivalry,” said Erin.  “The preseason poll came out this year and we were all texting each other at midnight when it came out.  We call each other after every game to let the others know how we did.  Tara and Rachel have been talking about the last time they played each other since last year.”

This year’s Duke-Virginia matchup is slated for Oct. 31 in Charlottesville, Va., just days before the ACC Tournament is set to begin on Nov. 5.  Princeton does not have Duke or Virginia on its schedule, but there’s always a chance that the Tigers could meet one of the squads in the NCAA Tournament.

The Blue Devils and Cavaliers are both off to 2-0 starts after opening the season last weekend, while Princeton starts the year against Ohio State in Syracuse, N.Y., on Sept. 5.