Sophia and Emma Nolan were born on July 14, 2000, seven minutes apart.
Emma Nolan arrived first, while Sophia Nolan came second and from the beginning their mother, Stacey Nolan, knew she wanted them to have their own identities. She realized her youngest daughters would share every milestone together for the rest of their lives, so she felt that the least she and her husband, Ken Nolan, could do is avoid some of the twin clichés.
No matching outfits and certainly no rhyming names.
“I have identical twin girl cousins and they told me at the baby shower, ‘Do us this favor, and don’t make them the same person. Make sure they’re individuals,’” Stacey Nolan said. “I took that to heart. And even though I made a conscious effort to do that, they’re still inseparable.”
Stacey Nolan anticipated that as her children grew older, they’d develop different interests and befriend different people. And while that is true in some instances, for the most part their lives have been lived side by side.
The twins both said they couldn’t imagine not being close or having the other’s support throughout their 18 years — especially on the court.
Emma and Sophia Nolan — who were named The Times’ Girls Basketball Co-Players of the Year for the second straight season — led Marquette Catholic to its second girls basketball state championship in school history. The Blazers once again knocked off Vincennes Rivet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to become the first Region team to pull off the feat since Crown Point took home state titles in 1984 and 1985.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Sophia Nolan said. “It’s such an honor to be able to leave our legacies behind at Marquette and show everyone what hard work can do.”
Sophia Nolan played in a state-record 112 games throughout her prep career at Marquette Catholic and made sure to leave her mark. She ranks third in Blazers history in assists and second in rebounds, steals, blocks, 3-pointers made and points. She poured in a game-high 26 points in her final high school game to help Marquette Catholic secure a wire-to-wire 57-36 state title victory. She fell just six points shy of becoming the Blazers' all-time leading scorer.
Since Sophia Nolan couldn’t get the record, there is only one other person she would rather have sit atop that list, and it happens to be her twin sister. Emma Nolan holds the program record with 1,969 points and also ranks first in rebounds, steals and blocked shots.
The siblings have combined for nearly 4,000 points and over 1,700 rebounds. And in addition to claiming two state championships, they also helped the Blazers win four straight sectional titles, three consecutive regional crowns and two semistate trophies, while helping the team maintain a .884 winning percentage throughout their four campaigns.
Emma Nolan acknowledged that what she, her sister and their team accomplished is remarkable. But she believes their influence extended beyond the hardwood.
“I think Sophia and I made a bigger impact on people off of the court,” Emma Nolan said. “A lot of younger girl athletes really looked up to us, and I hope we were able to inspire them to come to Marquette and keep the legacy going.”
Bigger than a hobby
The Nolans were never a sports-oriented family.
Ken and Stacey Nolan didn’t bring Sophia and Emma Nolan into the world with lofty expectations and dreams of them becoming the prep basketball stars that they are now.
They enrolled their children at their local Boys and Girls Club in Valparaiso and put them in softball, indoor soccer and basketball to help them stay active. After each sports season, Ken and Stacey Nolan asked their twin daughters which one they liked the most and wanted to continue playing.
Basketball was their first and only choice, and in hindsight Stacey Nolan believes her daughters — who both now stand 6-foot-2 — made the right decision.
“It was just a total fluke that they picked the right sport,” Stacey Nolan said. “In middle school you could watch them physically growing right in front of you, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are they actually going to reach 6 feet? This is incredible.’”
Ken Nolan said he became more invested in basketball when he saw his daughters’ interest in the sport, and he served as their first coach. He started off as a volunteer coach at the Boys and Girls Club, but eventually formed an AAU team so his daughters could face better competition.
The twins were dominating their youth league so much that the Boys and Girls Club enacted new rules to limit Emma and Sophia Nolan's production.
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“Because the girls were literally head and shoulders above everybody in their age group, the Boys and Girls Club director would ask us not to have the twins score so much,” Ken Nolan said with a laugh. “And we could only put them in one at a time. They had to alternate.”
Stacey Nolan stands 5-7 and Ken Nolan stands 6-3, while their two oldest daughters, Hannah and Carolanne Nolan, are both 5-8. Ken Nolan said that the twins’ unexpected height has set them apart for their entire careers, and as they got older he knew he didn’t have the knowledge to teach them how to use it to their advantage.
After four years of coaching his daughters, from second to fifth grade, Ken Nolan decided to let the twins join another AAU program in sixth grade guided by Jerry Bechtold. Stacey Nolan believes she saw a significant change in how Emma and Sophia Nolan approached the game after working with Bechtold, and both of the twins said they are forever indebted to their former coach.
“Coach B, when he got his hands on us, that’s when we took our game to the next level,” Emma Nolan said. “That’s when we realized like, ‘Oh, we’re pretty good.’ And that’s when my dad actually realized that we could play in college and have a future in basketball.”
Stacey Nolan credits Bechtold with expanding the twins’ IQs and also teaching them how to stay out of foul trouble on defense. But in addition to his contributions, Emma and Sophia Nolan also said that they wouldn’t on the brink of playing college basketball without Gregory Jones II.
During the school season, Jones trains Region athletes, including the twins, in the evening to help them fine-tune aspects of their game.
“He started working with us on our footwork and ball-handling,” Sophia Nolan said. “And I think we got a lot of confidence from him.”
Together at every turn
Katie Collignon knows what it takes to compete in college.
She was a point guard at Ferris State in Michigan. Collignon was also an assistant women’s basketball coach at Valparaiso University for four seasons before accepting her current job as Marquette Catholic’s athletic director and girls basketball coach in June 2016.
Throughout her three seasons with the program, Collignon has posted 75 wins and 10 losses, but she knows it wouldn’t be possible without a memorable class led by a pair of dynamic players.
“I think I let that set in, and I knew from Day 1 we had a special group and some great kids to be around,” Collignon said. “I tried to enjoy every single day and every single moment along the way, especially this year knowing it was their last year. So I was just trying to be a positive impact on their lives.”
Emma and Sophia Nolan both refer to Collignon as “Coach K” and said that they were grateful when she took over the program before the start of their sophomore season. Early on in their prep careers, the twins began to see they had a chance at playing college basketball, but they weren’t always sure how to get there.
Their new coach had the road map.
Collignon admitted that there may have been times when she held Sophia and Emma Nolan to a higher standard than other players in the program. From her perspective, she didn’t want the twins’ careers to peak in high school and fizzle out at the next level because they were never corrected or humbled.
“I just love her so much,” Sophia Nolan said. “She’s impacted me a lot, and this year she just kept getting on us like, ‘This isn’t gonna fly in college. I want to make sure you’re prepared. I want to make you guys better.’ Because she knows what it's like to play in college, so having her was super helpful.”
The twins said that Collignon made them look at their careers from a more long-term vantage point and added that their experience playing in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League over the past few summers — one of the top AAU circuits in the country — also helped them get a clearer look at their futures.
Emma and Sophia Nolan committed to Saint Louis when they were sophomores, but decommitted the summer before the start of their senior season. Initially, they said they heard a lot of chatter about bigger programs not offering scholarships to players with almost identical styles and skill sets.
However, after they received increased exposure due to the Nike EYBL, the twins thought they had a shot at going to a higher-level program. Schools that were not interested or not aware of their talent a couple years ago took notice and Emma and Sophia Nolan decided to continue their careers at St. John’s in New York.
“We went there and met all of the coaches,” Emma Nolan said. “They were all so welcoming, and we clicked with all of them instantly. The players are great too, and we vibed with them so easily. And since Sophia and I have grown up in Valpo almost our entire lives, we just wanted to try something new.”
Stacey and Ken Nolan said that they have only missed one game throughout their daughters’ prep careers. And after choosing to send them to a high school outside of their hometown for better academic and athletic opportunities, they are proud that Emma and Sophia Nolan were the ones to make their next major decision — sticking together just like they have since they were born.