Holding down the left side: The Flynn sisters’ soccer journey

| Senior Sports Editor
A soccer player in a white jersey controls the ball with her right foot as a player in a blue uniform chases her from behind on her right side.

Senior Erin Flynn dribbles past a Wheaton College defender in September. Flynn leads the Bears with 13 points on the year. (Photo by Curran Neenan / Student Life)

If you look at the box score of a Washington University women’s soccer game, you might think that there’s a typo. Running down the list of starters, you’re almost certain to come across the name “Flynn” more than once. But it’s no mistake — in fact, in their first season playing together, senior Erin and sophomore Kate Flynn are proving that a sisterly bond goes a long way to success. 

It wasn’t necessarily a plan but rather a happy coincidence that the pair both ended up at WashU. Growing up outside Chicago, the two got into soccer at around the same time when their parents signed them up for local teams. From there, each one found their love for the game with the other right alongside them. “We did a lot of sports through middle school; basketball, cross-country, track,” Erin said, “but soccer was always the front-runner.”

After years of age-separated travel teams, the pair finally shared the pitch for two years in high school at Benet Academy, where they developed the chemistry that they’ve since brought to WashU. Unfortunately, Erin graduated the season before Kate and Benet Academy won the state championship, a fact that Kate still holds over her sister. “That’s gotta be my favorite memory from high school,” she joked. 

[What head coach Stephanie Gabbert says the Bears will need to do to succeed in the playoffs]

As their involvement in soccer became more serious and playing in college became a goal for both sisters, offseasons turned into shared training opportunities; the two even ran through the first WashU summer training packet sent to Erin before her freshman year, an early precursor for Kate who, unknown to her at that time, would be sent one of her own two years later. Given the pair’s natural inclination for competing, the two pushed each other. “I think it’s always been a little bit of both: healthy competition, and then definitely a lot of support,” Erin said. “I think because we never really play on the same team, we weren’t ever that individually competitive with each other.” Kate agreed that while they were more supportive than competitive growing up, “now that we are on the same team, especially at practices if we’re on different teams, it’s definitely really competitive.”

When Kate started looking at colleges for both academics and soccer, WashU naturally jumped to the top of her list. “It was definitely a draw… The school itself was a good fit for me individually regardless of whether or not my sister was here, and then when it came down to deciding between my top few schools, [Erin] was obviously a big factor in why I chose to come here,” she said. 

While playing together appealed to Kate during recruitment, Erin, sensing the opportunity to reunite with her sister, was not shy about trying to draw her to St. Louis. “Never in a million years did I think that we’d end up at the same place,” she said. “I saw a window of opportunity for us to play two more years and, yeah, it worked out great.” A ride the Flynns thought would end in high school suddenly reemerged, giving them the chance to enjoy two more years on the field together.

While COVID took away the 2020 season, since lacing up and stepping on the field together, the Flynns have been flat-out dominant this season. Erin, a left midfielder, leads the team in points (a measure of offensive production — goals count for two, assists for one) with 13, and she is tied for the most goals (five) on the team on 38 total shots, 13 more than the next-closest player. On the other side of the ball, Kate has started all 16 games at left back for the dominant Bears defense that has recorded shutouts in half of their contests this season. 

And if you watch one of their games, it’s no coincidence that the two line up on the same side of the field. “We’re already on that same wavelength because we’ve played with each other for so long, we’ve known how each other played our entire lives, so that’s been fun,” Erin said. “Just being one step ahead of other people and knowing what each other is going to do.” 

“It’s been fun to kind of fall back into that role of having the dynamic on the sideline together,” Kate agreed. “There’s definitely an advantage to having watched her play my whole life and knowing the way she plays; I can kind of predict what she’s gonna do and her habits.” 

Given how the sisters complement one another on the field, it’s not uncommon this year for a WashU attack to be bookended by Flynns. This phenomenon was well-elucidated early in the season when the pair recorded an “all-Flynn” scoring play: Erin rocketed a corner kick into the box, which Kate promptly put in the back of the net — her first career goal at WashU, assisted by none other than her sister. 

The Flynn household has loved every second, trekking to nearly every game this year to watch their dynamic duo play.  “They’re very big fans,” the sisters agreed with a laugh.

As exciting as their time on the field together has been this season, this time will almost certainly be their last; Erin graduates in the spring, meaning the sisters will have to put their on-field relationship to rest for the final time. “It’s a weird feeling, but like [Erin] said, we’re just grateful that we had this last season together,” Kate said. 

WashU begins their playoff push this Saturday as they face Beloit College in the round of 64, and the team will need both Flynns at the top of their game if they hope to make a deep run. But while Erin and Kate hope to finally win a championship as sisters in their last season together, they’re just going to cherish every minute until the whistle blows for the final time. 

“I think it just makes everything mean that much more,” Kate said. “Just that I’m sharing it with someone who’s been there for me my whole life and who will continue to be there for me. My best friend.”

Look back at past women’s soccer playoff runs:

Women’s soccer stunned: With a single stop, the season was over

Just short of perfect: Women’s soccer suffers first loss, bounced from Final Four

This time, a win: Women’s soccer wins program’s first national championship

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