By Ethan Diamandas
In the spring of 2020, while the outside world battled a pandemic and folks were forced to quarantine, two of Ottawa’s most talented young female soccer stars spent their time training in their basement in Barrhaven.
The setup was simple – a small goal, some pylons, and a ball – but it was enough to occupy 14-year-old twin sisters, Isabelle and Annabelle Chukwu, who kept their soccer skills sharp for when life opened again.
Eventually the duo was able to start practising outside, which relieved some stress. But things got more exciting once the girls got onto the pitch with Ottawa South United (OSU) this past summer.
“My favourite memory was probably the first game back because we had been away for two years,” Isabelle told the Sports Pages in a phone interview. “And I think all of our hard work paid off because in the first game … we won about 11 (to) nothing.”
But not even a massive 11-0 victory could set the expectations for the season that was to come. Very early in the 2021 season, it became clear the Chukwu sisters were two of the most dangerous players in their league – and their chemistry generated some truly eye-popping statistics.
As a striker, Annabelle has no trouble filling the net for her team. While it seems impossible, she led the Ontario Player Development League’s under-14 division in scoring with more than three times as many goals as the next highest goal scorer.
“My physicality and speed, on the ball and off the ball (help me succeed),” Annabelle said.
Annabelle is naturally gifted, has a knack for positioning herself properly, and earned high praise from her coach at OSU, David Fox.
“Obviously Annabelle has got naturally very dominant physical attributes,” Fox said. “And what you tend to find with those players is as they get older, and other people get smarter, wiser more athletic themselves, they haven’t learned to solve problems required at the higher level.
“The difference with … (the Chukwu sisters) is they solve problems when they’re going on.”
As Fox explained, the sisters dominate by adapting and overcoming strategies defenses throw at them – and they succeed by doing it together.
“I work very well on the wide areas, and I like to cut in,” Isabelle said. “I do tend to score but I can also give others good opportunities, like Annabelle. I’d say I bring speed.”
With Isabelle’s speed and Annabelle’s strength in the box, the Chukwu-to-Chukwu combo netted plenty of beautiful goals this season and led OSU to capture the under-14 Girls Charity Shield championship in late October.
The girls also played up an age group this season, helping their club’s under-15 girls team reach the Charity Shield finals, where OSU lost to Markham SC in penalties.
(West Ottawa’s U17 boys’ and Ottawa TFC’s U17 girls’ teams also won Charity Shield titles this year, meaning half of the OPDL’s end-of-season championships went to Ottawa teams.)
“It was challenging,” Annabelle said about competing with older girls. “I wouldn’t say I was that nervous because I played with (the under-15 team) before a lot, too.”
The Chukwus’ individual success is extra impressive, given how new they are to the sport. In 2017, a year after moving to Ottawa from England, Isabelle and Annabelle started playing soccer during recess at Ottawa Christian School in Nepean. The twins enjoyed it, and a family friend recommended they try out for OSU.
The sisters were never really into sports beforehand, so Isabelle said she shocked her parents with her ability to seamlessly pick up soccer.
“They were definitely surprised by our success, but also I think they’ve been very supportive,” Isabelle said.
At 14 years old, the Chukwu sisters are still not fully developed athletes. They’ve flashed incredible potential, and while their futures aren’t finalized, each sister has their own goals for their soccer careers.
Anabelle said she’d like play professionally one day, while Isabelle looks forward to the idea of playing university soccer in a few years.
Both sisters said they’d like to represent the women’s national team one day, too. Part of that inspiration came from watching Canada beat Sweden to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August.
“I was definitely inspired by (Canada’s) hard work leading up to it,” Isabelle said. “And I guess it showed girls like me, and others, that there is a space for girls to be able to go into soccer they want to.”
Watching the Canadian women grind for a gold medal victory gave Isabelle hope that the achievement could push young women to pick up soccer and travel down the path to stardom, as she’s on her way to doing.
“The female game isn’t as big right now,” she said. “But seeing the girls win, I’m thinking that a lot of girls would be inspired and motivated and know that they can pursue a career in that field if they want to.”
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