To some athletes, a team can feel like a second family away from home — and even more so when you are related to your teammate. That is the case for sisters Anna and Ellie Podojil, who have joined forces to lead the Razorback soccer team.
The Podojils lived in Bentonville until 2012 when their family packed up and moved to Cincinnati. It was there that they developed a deep passion for the game of soccer and honed their craft.
Their parents, Dan and Rebecca Podojil, were both standout track athletes at Miami University in Ohio. The sisters said they were not pressured into athletics during their childhood, but rather sports quickly became a natural creative outlet for them.
The Podojils college experience has reinforced the pre-existing strong bond between them.
“It has its ups and downs, but I personally like it because now we are so far away from home so it is nice having each other here together,” Anna said. “I guess at times it can be frustrating just living together and being sisters, but I think we both really like it.”
Anna and Ellie said they have no qualms regarding their decision to attend the same school, even if they do get tired of one another now and again.
“We’re pretty much more like best friends than sisters so that is pretty cool,” Anna said.
Growing up, they competed in several different sports including soccer and track. It was not until high school when they realized they had higher aspirations than playing recreational-league soccer.
“When we started doing club, that is when we realized that we actually wanted to pursue soccer and look into playing collegiately,” freshman forward Ellie said.
The duo racked up accolades and trophies during their time at Indian Hill High School. They led the school to its first Ohio Division II state title in 2018 and then repeated as champions the following year. While moonlighting for the track team, they were part of the group that set a state record time in the 4x4 relay to capture a Division II team state championship at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Track and Field Championships.
Indian Hill head coach Amy Duncan oversaw the two state-title winning teams and was honored as the 2017-18 National Girls Soccer Coach of the Year from the National Federation of State High School Associations. She witnessed first-hand how the sisters’ dedication on and off the field played a major role in their success.
“They were our hardest workers,” Duncan said. “They were the kids that were putting in the extra time...and were always the ones setting the example.”
Anna holds the school scoring record with 117 goals and has been named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year twice. Both were top-100 recruits coming out of high school.
“They’re very special athletes,” Duncan said. “I just feel so fortunate that I got to coach both of them throughout high school.”
Despite the national recognition, the duo managed to stay level-headed and fend off any external pressure.
“They are extremely soft-spoken and humble about their success and I think that only adds to the element of how amazing they are as athletes as well as people,” Duncan said.
Despite having to sort through an abundance of collegiate offers in her first couple of years in high school, Anna knew what she was looking for in her future program.
“The recruiting process started super early,” she said. “I always wanted to play in the SEC.”
The Podojils have always been a package deal on the field, so it was no surprise when they began taking recruiting trips together.
“We have pretty much played on the same team our whole lives,” Ellie said.
Coaches quickly became receptive to the idea of offering scholarships to Anna and Ellie simultaneously.
“When I was going on all my recruiting visits all the coaches wanted us together,” Anna said.
Ellie accompanied her older sister on numerous trips to prospective colleges, but the return to Northwest Arkansas was something they had longed for.
“Both of us kind of initiated the recruiting process with Arkansas and after that, we came on our visit and it immediately felt like home,” Anna said.
Ellie echoed similar sentiments when referring to the pair’s decision to commit to the Razorbacks.
“I think growing up here was definitely a big part of the reason why we wanted to come back and play soccer,” she said.
The Podojils grew up attending Razorback Soccer games as children, and now their journey has come full circle. They are the ones the next generation of Hog soccer players are looking up to on the pitch.
The homecoming has paid major dividends for the University of Arkansas and the sisters. Anna started all 23 matches and was awarded the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2019. Ellie managed to work her way into the starting lineup even without the usual preseason training and non-conference games during this unprecedented eight-game season.
The Podojil-to-Podojil passing combination did not result in a goal for Arkansas this season, yet Ellie is certain that the two fit cohesively within the team’s system.
“Our playing styles are really different, but they complement each other really well because I am more of a passer and she is more of a finisher,” Ellie said.
Despite the challenges presented by the shortened season and conference-only schedule, the Razorbacks managed to win their second-consecutive regular season SEC title. However, they stumbled in the SEC Tournament championship in a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt.
While the SEC Tournament crown still eludes the Razorback trophy cabinet, it may not be for long if the Podojil's have any say in the matter.
“I look forward to continuing to build on the program and what the teams before us have already started,” Ellie said. “They (Arkansas) won the SEC (regular season) last year, but we are just wanting to get better every year, working for the Tournament championship and making it further into the NCAA Tournament.”
Off the pitch, the pair of soccer players are likely to be found riding bikes with their roommates or making TikTok dance videos, they said.
In high school, the sisters created a club for dancing at halftime of basketball games.
“We are always making up dances,” Anna said.
Razorback fans will undoubtedly be hoping to catch a glimpse of those dances during goal celebrations in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas will play the winner of the Memphis-Wright State game at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 1.