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At first glance, and perhaps even after a closer look, Monika and Maggie Czinano appear more different than alike.

For sisters, anyway.

Monika, a 6-3 senior and All-Big Ten player for Iowa, is a pure post. Younger sister Maggie, a 6-0 freshman for the Gophers women's basketball team, is a wing. Monika is an extrovert, Maggie is more reserved.

Thursday night Iowa comes to Williams Arena to play the Gophers. In the crowd will be scores of folks from the Watertown-Mayer area, where both grew up. Girls' basketball high school coach John Rosholt is taking the whole team down. Monika and Maggie's aunt, Stacy Roitenberg, has had special shirts made up, half Minnesota, half Iowa.

Monika will start and play big minutes. Maggie, who has been through a daunting series of medical setbacks, will likely watch much of the game from the bench.

Again, different situations.

But look deeper.

That's when the similarities start to show. They played different positions, but Rosholt remembers both sisters were team-first players. Both had great hands.

Their mother, Theresa Czinano, adds this: "Here is the commonality between the two. Both are hard workers. Both are very coachable. Both want to win."

Big sister and little sister. They played one-plus season together at Watertown-Mayer. Maggie was called up to the varsity late in her eighth-grade year. Her main job, she remembers, was simple: Get the ball to Monika. Together they helped lead the team to state, where they finished third in Class 2A.

They had one full season together when Monika was a senior, Maggie a freshman. There was one game where Maggie scored more points. "Best game of my life," she said.

She remembers the assistant coaches nudging her, telling her quietly, so Monika didn't hear. "Monika always drove me home after games, because I couldn't drive," Maggie said. "I remember rubbing it in as much as I could. But then my senior year, my little sister Mallory scored more points than me, and I was upset."

Still, the fact they played different positions was good. Then they didn't have to be compared, didn't have to compete with each other for playing time.

Thursday is Monika's 22nd birthday. Here is Maggie's best-case scenario: Monika has a big game, but the Gophers win.

"That would be picture perfect," Maggie said.

Sisterly support

If anything, the sisters have grown closer with Maggie off to college. They talk daily, and Monika has been a sounding board for Maggie's difficult season.

Early on, she sprained an ankle. And then she developed an eye infection that threatened the sight in her left eye. Nobody is sure how it happened. But a scratch in the eye allowed bacteria in. At first it felt like there was an eyelash in her eye, bothersome, painful.

"One day I woke up and there was no vision in it," she said. "Very scary. Doctors said I was 12 hours away from losing the vision [permanently]. Several doctors visits later I have it back. To this day I have to wear protective eye gear."

And then Maggie had to deal with a long-term, flu-like illness that was never really diagnosed. There were multiple negative COVID-19 tests, negative flu tests.

Still not 100%, she only recently returned to practice.

Through it all, Monika was there for her little sister. Maggie is thankful that she got to see her sister go through the recruitment process and the stress that goes with it. Monika, who didn't play a ton as a freshman while backing up Megan Gustafson, knows how hard it is to make the transition from high school to college.

"I just do my best to listen," Monika said. "I give advice when I can. I try to remind her [in my] freshman year, I didn't play a lot. She's crazy optimistic. I keep telling her, things happen for a reason. She's done a great job battling back every time. Never lost hope, at all."

Border rivals

Monika's career has been a steady rise. An all-Big Ten first team player last season, she is averaging a career-high 19.9 points and 5.5 rebounds for the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes. She hasn't decided whether to return for a fifth season. So Thursday's game — and the rematch in Iowa City on Feb. 9 — could be the only two games the two sisters are on opposite benches.

According to Theresa Czinano, there will be some good-natured banter, some trash talking. But, under it all, both sisters want the other to do well. "Monika has done a really good job of helping Maggie, being a sounding board," Theresa said.

When she was getting over her eye infection, Maggie held out hope she'd be ready to play by Thursday. But her illness set her back.

"Obviously, I'm a little bummed," Maggie said. "I was hoping I'd be healthy, but I've been dealt a different hand of cards. It's frustrating, but no matter what, I'm excited to have the experience."