DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Soderstrom twins double the fun in Xavier athletics

Fraternal twins Elena and Emma Soderstrom spent their first 36 weeks or so as next-door neighbors in their mother’s womb. Then it was time for their coming-out birthday party.

But they didn’t arrive at the same time. They were about an hour apart. Emma, the first-born, came by way of natural childbirth. Elena was by cesarian section.

The story, as Elena tells it, was that Emma sustained a black eye.

“I guess you could say that I kicked her out so I would have a little more time and a little more room to relax, where it was warm,’’ Elena said.

The 18 years since have gone like a blur, and the sisters are almost ready to graduate from Xavier Prep in May. In their early years they attended Sonoran Trails Middle School in north Phoenix, and when they were looking for a high school, a client of their father, Mark, a veterinary surgeon, suggested XCP.

Volleyball's Emma Soderstrom, left, and track and field's Elena Soderstrom, right (Photo by Don Ketchum).

The two began to excel in the classroom and in athletics. Elena played volleyball as a freshman, then moved over to track and field as her permanent focus the rest of her career as a Gator, concentrating on the shot put, discus and javelin. Mark Soderstrom, a former decathlete in college, has helped her along the way as a coach.

“Each week, I have tried to work on a different aspect to fix every day in practice. That’s the best way for you to improve,’’ Elena said.

She has shown quite a bit of improvement this spring and has a chance to score some points for the Gators at the Division I state meet on May 7, 11 and 14.

Emma tried cross country as a middle-schooler, but has been a volleyball player from the get-go at Xavier. She rose to the level of an All-State Honorable Mention last fall after helping XCP build a 24-11 record. This spring, she has added beach volleyball to her resume while logging some time as part of the No. 5 pair and as a reserve.

Dates for the Division I state team tournament are April 18, 20, 25 and 27. Xavier has won eight of the first nine titles that have been held.

“I figure that it’s my senior year, so hey, why not?’’ Emma said of beach volleyball.

“I enjoy playing it quite a bit. Indoor and beach have a few differences. With indoor, you usually play front or back, but in beach, you have to play all over the court because it’s just you and your teammate.’’

Emma also likes to provide support for her teammates as a free-spirited “cheerleader’’ on occasion.

In their early days, the girls, along with their older sister, Erika, who attended Cave Creek Cactus Shadows, lived on a small “farm’’ were animals were plentiful. There were sheep, goats, chickens and a few dogs, including Jack and Jill. The family enjoyed having them around. Jill has only three legs but Jack unfortunately passed away.

Both Emma and Elena agree for the most part on which TV shows and movies to watch. Their tastes in food are similar but not quite exact. Emma enjoys the cooking part of it. Some of their friends are the same, others different. Depending on their spring schedules, they might end up driving separately.

They support each other’s athletics pursuits. Elena attends the indoor volleyball matches and Emma tries to make it to track and field invitational meets, usually on weekends. The girls also have a step-sister and a step-brother and Emma says the brother, age 5, is a favorite of the girls on the Xavier Spirit Line.

Neither is likely to play sports in college, preferring to focus on academics. But if they put the same amount of effort into their studies as they did at Xavier, they should do all right.

Elena likely will attend the University of Arizona in Tucson and will study psychology. “I’ve always been interested in what people are thinking,’’ she said.

Emma, who according to Elena is more outgoing, has not decided on a college yet but is leaning toward political science. That could lead to law school or working on political campaigns.

Emma said attending Xavier “has been a special time for us. The community has been behind us  through the hard times and the good times.’’

“We have put some pressure on ourselves to do well in both sports and school. Our family knows what that can mean. They are very supportive and we know we are not alone,’’ Elena said.

That, of course, also is because the girls know they can rely on each other.


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