When you are the type of program that has won 10 state championships and over 20 state trophies, you don’t expect freshmen to be able to join the team and become immediate varsity contributors. But Naperville North girls cross country saw not one, but two elite runners join the orange and blue last fall with the Tandon twins, Shania and Riana entering the fold. It was clear to Hall of Fame head coach Dan Iverson that he had a special duo on his hands. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Twins make their marks right from the start

“When we saw them in the summer, we knew some of the times they had run in junior high track and that sort of thing. So we kind of knew that we were getting kids that were pretty good. And workouts going into our first meet before freshman year, we knew we knew that they were athletes that were varsity athletes right away. We don’t throw freshmen in varsity that lightly. You know, if they earn it, they’re there. And so they were,” Iverson explained.

It was that extensive history of success that drew the Tandon’s to the Huskie program in the first place, with the family moving into the district before the start of their high school careers.

“We really chose North just because of its absolute positivity and it’s just and, and over the years it’s just been an amazing, successful program. So just coming into this program, it’s been absolutely amazing just being surrounded with so many supporters and lots of great, great people who are very wise and definitely have a lot to teach us in the running world, said Shania Tandon.

“It is such an honor to be able to run with such an excellent team and program, and I’m so grateful to be able to be able or be training with Dan Iverson. And he’s just the best. And yeah, it’s just awesome,” said Rianna Tandon.

A passion for sports turns into a love of running

Over the past two seasons, Rianna and Shania have proven to be some of the top distance runners in Illinois, regardless of age. They each finished in the top ten at last season’s regional and in the top 15 at the sectional. To no surprise, the success has continued this fall as the Tandon’s along with veteran runners like Julie Piot, Emma Berres and Anika Lovisa have led the Huskies to the DVC and regional championships.

While their parents both have running backgrounds, the Tandon twins both discovered their passion for running while competing in other sports while growing up.

“We both play basketball together and soccer, but my sister did play soccer for a little bit longer than I did. And I decided to focus mainly on basketball before going into running,” Rianna Tandon explained. “And I oh my gosh, I love basketball. It was so much fun. It was just the time management between both of us. Two sports would have been too difficult to do, and I was obviously better at running. So I decided to stay with the running.”

Twin connection helps sisters stay motivated

As this talented pair just begins to scratch the surface of their skillset on the course, the sisters love being able to support and push each other through the ups and downs of the season long grind.

“Oh, my gosh. It’s awesome. I love how we are the same age, so we are not very competitive with each other. We work together and we do all our workouts together and we train together. So it’s great. And I love having someone who’s pretty close to the times with me so I can run with her and we can get better together,” said Rianna.

“So definitely just having her as a running buddy and as a workout trainer partner, it’s just a very it’s very motivating because even I know Rihanna has dealt with some a few injuries here and there. Just being on the track without her just feels like I’m missing something. And that goes with when she is there on the race course and on the track. It’s been a pleasure to have her by my side and I feel blessed every day to have her running with me,” said Shania.

“They’ve been really good at working together. They’ve been really good at making each other better. When one of them has a rough day, the other one kind of picks up and then, you know, vice versa at the next meet,” said Iverson. “You know, there’s sometimes it can be a negative rivalry and it doesn’t really appear that that’s the case with them. They appear to make each other better.”

In the sports of cross country and track, you are often competing against yourself and your own previous times in addition to the other runners on the course. But when you have a twin running next to you, that can lead to some friendly banter once the race is over.

“Well, after the race! Before the race, we’re kind of just like, we actually get this done and we have to run as hard as we can and like, lock in. But then after the race, we definitely will hear from each other sometimes,” said Rianna with a laugh.

“No, definitely no smack talks between us and of course, we are competitive and but competitive for the better. We definitely like to race with each other rather than against each other. And yeah, before the races with you, a little handshake and we just remind each other that we’re here. God is with us, we’re with each other. And yeah, it’s all for the better,” said Shania.

For Coach Iverson, having Rianna and Shania on the squad for two more seasons creates only one complication, figuring out who is who when they emerge from the pack.

“They have slightly different forms, although they’re pretty close. I mean it’s actually pretty similar, but they do have slightly different forms, and they wear their hair a little bit differently. But I have made the mistake. After conference, I looked down at I just thought for a second that it was one and not the other. Oops!” said Iverson.

The goal is to be able to run together as long as they can through their high school careers and hopefully in college as well. But for now the Huskie twin duo is ready to continue their run through the post season all the way to Detweiler Park, while cementing their places as some of the best to ever lace up their shoes for the Naperville North program.

“They seem to be very into the idea of following into that history. And they certainly have already written places in it. Each of them have courses where they’re part of the top ten of all time so far. And we hope that that continues. So far, we’re just really blessed to have been part of the program,” said Iverson.

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