Although many siblings attend SVSU, rarely do they participate in a collegiate sport together. Wilhelmina and Lilian Francisco competed together on SVSU’s swimming and diving team.
Long before they graduated from Chelsea High School and enrolled at SVSU, they began training as competitive divers at summer camp. Wilhelmina was 14 and Lilian was 11 during that initial camp experience. Ever since, diving has been an important aspect of their lives and another way they found a connection with each other.
During Wilhelmina’s senior year of high school, she realized she could — and wanted to — continue competitive diving at the collegiate level. And when she chose SVSU as her destination in 2014, it was unique timing: She became a member of the university’s inaugural women’s swimming and diving team.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “There were only 13 or 14 of us. There were high expectations.”
By most standards, Wilhelmina met those high expectations during her four years on the team. She advanced to the NCAA Division II nationals three times, including in 2018, when she was named the GLIAC Women’s Diver of the Year.
During Wilhelmina’s first three years with the team, her younger sister was a regular attendee at competitions, cheering from the stands. Meanwhile, Lilian was carving out her own spot as a top-notch diver at the high school level. During her junior year in 2015, she competed in the state finals.
In 2017, Lilian enrolled at SVSU and joined her sister on the swimming and diving team. Both said they were thankful for the opportunity to compete on the same team. The experience brought them closer together, even during the moments when their competitive spirit turned them into temporary rivals.
“Depending on the day, we sometimes fought,” Lilian said. “Other times, we would be as close as ever.”
Lilian’s career on the swimming and diving team ended in January 2018 when she landed hard on the water, sustaining a concussion that forced her out of competition.
Although she left the team, she didn’t lose her competitive spirit. She then joined SVSU’s track and field team in the shot put and hammer throw competitions.
Her older sister supports Lilian’s new challenge — with one condition.
“I told her to participate in track and continue to have fun,” Wilhelmina said. “If there is no fun, there is no point in doing it.”
The younger sibling plans to continue following in her sister’s footsteps in at least one way: by one day becoming an SVSU alumna. Wilhelmina received her bachelor’s degree in marketing in May 2018. Lilian, meanwhile, is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2021.