If ever there were perfect built-in practice partners, it’s the Girman senior twin sisters of Nottingham High School.
Each one’s specialty helps hone the other one’s ability.
Most everyone knows Gia Girman, who has been a scoring sensation since entering high school in 2017. Gia has 75 career goals and the 36 she scored as a sophomore is a school record and ranks as the second most in the Colonial Valley Conference for one season.
The only thing preventing her from challenging Erin Wingerter’s school mark for career goals is that Girman has often been removed from lopsided games as coach Christie Paglione isn’t a fan of padding individual statistics.
There are several reasons for Gia’s success. Obviously her talent, drive and desire. But it helps that the girl born a few minutes after her is also one of the top outside backs in the CVC. Because of her position, Gabi Girman never gets the headlines accorded her sister, but she makes her a better scorer.
“She’s definitely underrated because she’s a defender,” Gia said. “She’s fast, she’s really aggressive. She never backs down from any tackle. She always goes in at 100 percent.
“When I go against her in practice, you could see from the defensive perspective how they’re judging you so you practice which way you want to go or how you want to go. So it’s nice having a good defender to go against.”
Surprisingly, the two never went at it in the backyard as kids, despite both starting soccer at age 3. They began organized play as teammates on the New Jersey Wildcats and New Jersey Rush before Gia went to play for PDA in seventh grade. Gabi gave up travel, came back for a year, but dropped it again and now only plays high school ball.
As their careers progressed, they began to have backyard battles against each other.
“Now it’s real competitive,” Gia said. “We’ll play tennis soccer or have juggling competitions or go one-v-one. Whenever we want to kick the ball we always have someone. We go out and shoot and pass and stuff. A lot of people don’t have that so it’s great. Plus she’s my best friend.”
And while going against Gabi hones Gia’s offensive skills, the same can be said of Gabi’s defensive improvement from going against Gia’s firepower.
“It helps me a lot actually,” Gabi said. “A lot of the players here aren’t that experienced, which is fine, but she has a lot of experience so to play against her in practice makes me better for games.
“When we play against each other I love it because it’s like a challenge. She’s a lot faster than me, she’s a really good teacher. And we’re like best friends. Some sisters aren’t that close but we do everything together.”
Like most spectators at Nottingham games, Gabi is sometimes left in awe while watching her sister score a spectacular goal.
“She shocks me, like, every game,” the defender said. “She usually does something different. Literally she can go on the field and just go through every single player.
“She knows the game, she’s a hard worker. Even if we’re down 5-0 she’ll find a way to score. When we go one-v-one she usually goes right past me but I try to work hard to stay with her.”
The fact they only stand 5-foot-2 makes the Girmans’ abilities that much more impressive. Paglione heard about the duo from her teacher friends at Crockett Middle school, and was told to expect something special.
“You hear all these things, that these twins are coming in,” the former Christie Fink said. “You never know what to expect, you don’t want to get your hopes up too high. I remember the first day of tryouts, I was like ‘Yeah they weren’t kidding. They’re really good. I can’t believe they’re here.’”
The coach then spent the next three years listening to other rumors.
“You always heard that they’re going somewhere else,” Paglione said. “I heard that before they even got here. Then they showed up and they’ve been here ever since. Our relationship means so much to me and I hope it means that much to them.”
It does indeed.
In fact, it’s one of the reasons that the transfer talk—which was mostly concerning Gia—was never substantiated. Asked where the rumors came from, the super scorer laughed and said, “Who knows?”
“I heard I was going to Pennington, I heard I was going to Steinert, but I was always going here,” she said. “If I had to go back and do it over, I still wouldn’t change it. I love Coach Fink, I love the team, I love Nottingham itself from (Principal Frank) Ragazzo to the AD (Jon Adams). I just love it.”
Paglione admires the sisters’ qualities as people as much as their soccer prowess. They have become vocal leaders on the field but, equally important, their personalities have evolved to the point where “they are awesome young women.”
Asked if opponents ever do double takes on the field, Gabi laughed and said “Not really. Everyone pretty much knows who she is, so they don’t get us confused.”
Not to mention, they are at different ends of the field, although both are versatile enough to play numerous positions.
Gia would like to see Gabi play midfield so the two could connect with their passing game, but realizes that she is needed on defense since the Stars are thin in the back.
“Gabi is so underrated, and she’s been awesome for us,” Paglione said. “She’s a huge part of the team. She’s a leader back there. She’s really stepped up. She’s been through a couple of tough injuries and bounced back. She’s a fighter as well. She has that same grit Gia has, that toughness, that wanting to win and that willingness to put in the work to get that.”
The difference is that Gabi’s desire to continue at the next level is not like Gia’s. While Paglione assures that Gabi can play college ball, she is undecided on playing junior college soccer at Mercer or entering the Police Academy.
“She just always seemed more interested than me,” Gabi said. “I’ve been playing since I was little and I was good at it. I don’t really have anything else to do, and I get to play with her so that just makes it better.”
Conversely, Gia was heavily recruited from the start and decided on Rutgers her freshman year. Since then, she has constantly displayed those Division I skills despite her small stature.
Paglione’s best friend and high school/college teammate, Jess Babice, was one of the greatest scorers in Steinert history and also a big goal producer at Rowan University. So it’s high praise when Gia is compared to Babice.
“They have differences with some points of their game, but they are competitors on and off the field,” Paglione said. “They just want to win. Jess is one of the quickest players I’ve ever played with and Gia’s not far behind. It’s actually pretty cool to play with my best friend and then watch Gia grow into an unbelievable high school player like Jess. I’d definitely put her in that Babice category.”
The question is, how does she do it?
“She’s tough,” Paglione said. “She doesn’t care about the size of the girl who’s coming up on her. She doesn’t care who she is, if she has three girls on her, four girls on her. She’s gonna do everything in her power to come out with the ball. It’s just that motivation and that drive to be the best she could be.”
Nottingham endured a huge blow last season when Girman suffered a season-ending ankle injury prior to the state tournament last season. A year earlier Gabi broke her arm.
But both are back and looking strong for their final season at Nottingham.
“I’m happy they stuck it out here,” Paglione said. “I feel they’ve gotten a great experience school-wise, friend-wise and hopefully soccer-wise. I see them at practice going extra hard against each other, which is cool. That’s how you get better and that’s what part of being on a team is, and being sisters and rivals in certain ways.”
Sisters, rivals, competitors and, above all else, best friends.