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Q&A: Iliana Hocking on facing her sister for the first time, being the daughter of an MLB player, and more

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Arizona freshman Iliana Hocking has played in a countless number of soccer games, but last Thursday’s match against USC was unlike anything she’s ever experienced.

Hocking squared off against fraternal twin sister, Penelope, a Trojan, for the first time ever.

“It was pretty weird because we’ve always been on the same team together,” Iliana said. “Actually having to go against her was surreal. I never thought it would really happen.”

As outlined by the Orange Country Register, the two started playing soccer at an early age. Penelope was the first to try the sport, and Iliana, who was originally in cheerleading, quickly followed thanks to ... a piece of candy:

At the end of each soccer practice, Penelope’s team received a treat. Denny (their father) still chuckles as he remembers Iliana jumping into the line, hoping for a piece of candy.

“They said, ‘Well, you’re not in that class. If you don’t do the class, you don’t get a lollipop,’” Denny explained. “She was like, ‘Can you sign me up then?’ That’s actually how they both got involved in soccer.”

And it’s a good thing they did.

Iliana, a reserve midfielder for the Wildcats, was rated the No. 54 recruit in Southern California by TopDrawerSoccer and played for the SoCal Blues on the club circuit, where she and Penelope won an ECNL title. They also led Canyon High School to a state title in their sophomore seasons.

Iliana has played 329 minutes across 12 games at Arizona, recording an assist. Penelope, also a member of the U.S. U-20 National Team, has six goals and four assists for USC, the No. 2 team in the country.

“She’s obviously way better at scoring goals than me,” Iliana said. “I’d say I’m more of a defensive player. I’m more aggressive in the air, but she still has way better quality than me, shooting. We have totally opposite playing styles.”

There is at least one thing their games have in common, though: “They both have a little fire and edge,” said Arizona coach Tony Amato.

The Hocking twins are the daughters of former MLB player Denny Hocking, an infielder who spent 13 years in the league, mostly with the Minnesota Twins, though he did have one-year stints with the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals at the end of his career.

We caught up with Iliana for a few minutes after Thursday’s practice to see what it was like to play against her sister, the coolest part about being the daughter of an MLB player, and more.

When you subbed into the game against your sister, how did you make your presence known?

“The first time the ball was around me, she was dribbling at me, so I had to tackle her. I thought that was funny — that the first time (I played against her) my first play was actually against her. It was pretty cool.”

How did your parents handle you two playing against each other?

“My mom came out in a purple shirt, an opposite color of our schools, trying to keep it neutral.”

What do you think it was like for them to see you play against each other for the first time?

“I think they were excited to see us for the first time all together, because that was more exciting more them, that our family was reunited again after a few months of not being together. I think they were relieved it was over.”

(Amato talked to their parents after the game, to which he said, “it sounded like they were in misery the entire game.”)

Your dad was apparently the first Minnesota Twin to have twins. Are you aware of that?

“Yeah.”

What is it like being the daughter of an MLB player?

“I think it’s pretty fun because my dad is different from anyone else’s dad. I think it’s nice how I grew up watching sports and all those different aspects and hearing his stories.”

What’s the coolest story you have?

“They always say when we were babies Torii Hunter would carry us on the bus, stuff like that. We would always be around and on the field, playing.”

Did you ever play softball?

“Yeah I did. It was way too boring.”

(Hocking was also a track star at Canyon High School where she did 100m hurdles, the long jump and the 4x100m relay.)

Did USC recruit you?

“No, they didn’t.”

So it wasn’t a planned thing to split from your sister?

“Me and my sister finally got on our own different paths. We were like ‘let’s look at schools and see where it goes.’”

Why did you come to Arizona?

“I loved how it was a college town and the success Arizona was having and how they were building their program up. I loved the coaching staff and the location of the school. I knew right when I came on my visit that this was the school for me.”

How would describe your role on this team?

“I would say a sub and I come in and bring energy, make some tackles.”

Is it true that in club soccer you suffered a really bad leg injury?

“Yeah, I broke my tibia and fibula my junior year.”

Everyone says you’re an aggressive player (fellow midfielder Kennedy Kieneker has called Hocking a “beast”) and it showed on the play you got injured since you were making a run, the goalkeeper came off her line, and you just kept running...

“Yeah, I thought I could get the ball and she just took me out. But I’m not going to stop being aggressive, because that was a fluke thing. I don’t think it will happen again. Or at least I hope it doesn’t.” [laughs]

Coming off losses to USC and UCLA, how are you feeling about Saturday’s game against Cal, a talented team that has had a down year?

“I think we’re excited to bring it. We definitely need to get this win and I’m confident we will. We’re still playing really good soccer even if we’re not getting the results we wanted. I think we’re all really confident about this game and there’s only one game this week, so I know we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”


Arizona (8-4-1, 1-3-1) hosts Cal (5-7-1, 1-4) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks. Our preview can be read here.