As twins playing for the UMBC men’s lacrosse team, freshmen Michael and Steven Zichelli would like to clear up a few matters.
Contrary to popular belief, they do not finish each other’s sentences. (But they have been known to say the same thing simultaneously.)
They do not wear matching outfits. (But they do share clothes, except for sneakers and anything with their jersey numbers printed on them.)
And despite a startling resemblance that includes standing 6 feet 2 and weighing between 170 and 175 pounds, Michael and Steven Zichelli are not identical twins, but fraternal twins. But even though Michael has a small scar on his right temple from a childhood accident, people still get the pair confused.
“It’s crazy because we look a lot alike, and we’re almost the same person,” Steven said.
Said Michael: “When we first got here, a lot of the guys were like, ‘I’m never going to be able to tell you guys apart. You guys look exactly the same.’ But now everyone’s like, ‘It’s so easy.’ ”
It’s easy playing with [Steven] because we know each other’s tendencies and each other’s strengths and what we like to do. So we play that to our advantage.— UMBC freshman Michael Zichelli on his twin brother
Differentiating the brothers can be difficult even for the people who know them the best.
“Sometimes at the house, I have to go up and look at them in the face and make sure it’s who I think it is because they even sound so much alike,” their mother, Jenny Zichelli, said with a laugh. “And they have the same hair color, and now they’re the same size. So you do have to do a double take sometimes.”
Among the Retrievers, the twins are most distinguished by the numbers on their jerseys (Steven wears No. 25, while Michael wears No. 36) and the positions of their sticks (Michael is right-handed, while Steven is left-handed). Steven is listed as an attackman, but he has started several games in the midfield, including with Michael against Marist and No. 9 Johns Hopkins.
The opportunity to play together not only at the same school but on the same midfield line is perhaps one of the biggest reasons the Severna Park graduates chose UMBC and turned down offers from other programs that only sought one of the brothers.
“It’s definitely a cool experience because it’s something you’ve always dreamed about growing up in the backyard and pretending that you’re Paul Rabil,” Michael said. “It was always on our minds. And it’s easy playing with [Steven] because we know each other’s tendencies and each other’s strengths and what we like to do. So we play that to our advantage.”
The Zichelli twins were born Jan. 17, 1999. Michael was first with Steven trailing behind by about 30 minutes. They are the youngest of seven children raised by Robert, a dormitory furniture sales representative, and Jenny Zichelli, a fourth-grade teacher.
The five older siblings doted on the twins, but frequently tease their parents about their show of favoritism to the pair.
“One of my sons saw me sneaking out of the UMBC parking lot with a basket of laundry. We would never have done that for the other kids,” Jenny said. “It’s just that we’re so close that I can say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll grab it, take it home, wash it, and bring it back.’ My kids are like, ‘Come on, mom, you never would have done that for us.’ ”
The twins have been inseparable. They shared one bedroom at home, played football and lacrosse at Severna Park, share the same circle of friends, enjoy watching comedic films that feature Will Ferrell, and are roommates in Catonsville.
Asked if it is a generalization that twins do everything together, Michael said: “For us, I wouldn’t say it’s an over-exaggeration. We do a lot of things together. We have other twin friends who are completely different. One plays lacrosse, and the other plays baseball. For us, we’re pretty similar.”
But they are different in temperament, according to their parents. If they want to know how the boys are doing at school, they call Michael first because he is more talkative. Steven is the competitive one who hates losing in pickup basketball and family board games such as Clue and Monopoly.
Although the twins have played in all seven games for the Retrievers, Steven has been the more active brother, starting in six and compiling five goals and five assists. Michael has made two starts and scored twice, with his first goal coming off an assist from Steven in a 7-4 win against Marist on March 10.
Jenny Zichelli and her daughter Theresa were in the stands for the game against Johns Hopkins when the boys’ names were announced as starters in the midfield.
“I turned to my daughter and said, ‘Pinch me. Here are Michael and Steven playing at Homewood Field, and they’re starting. What could be better than this?’ ” she said. “The game didn’t end well for UMBC, but at the end of the day, my kids are starting and playing on a good team, and they’re very happy.”
Naturally, the brothers have fought, but their disagreements have been short-lived. And because of their closeness, the twins have no hesitation critiquing each other in lacrosse.
“If he makes a mistake, I can actually get on him,” Steven said. “We can get on other teammates, but they might take it personally. But with Michael, I can ream him out, and five minutes later, we’re high-fiving, and the same goes for him, too.”
The brothers did not waste any time making an impression with their classmates, who voted them as freshman representatives to an eight-member leadership council that consults with coach Ryan Moran regularly.
“You can tell there’s a high level of humility and a strong work ethic that comes from maybe coming from a large family,” Moran said. “They’re not complainers. I think they’re used to maybe getting the short end of the stick from their time at home, but they definitely are very appreciative of everything that they get, and they’re certainly great students and hard workers.”
The twins are majoring in media and communications, but haven’t given much thought about their futures after school. Instead, they’re simply enjoying the time they have together on campus and on the field.
“It means a lot because once you get older and you start getting married and having kids, you see your brothers and sisters a lot,” Steven said. “But why not spend as much time with your brother as you can before college ends? So we’re trying to make every moment count.”
Added Michael: “It’s pretty special.”