For Mocchi twins, this NU season truly different

Since birth, twins Allison and Maggie Mocchi have been a package deal.

They grew up being playmates and best friends, sharing everything from toys to clothes.

And as they took an interest in sports, they shared every coach, teammate and experience. They’ve been teammates on every team they’ve ever played on.

Basketball wound up being their best sport, and the sharp-shooting Mocchis became a heavy dose of double trouble on their travel teams, AAU teams, junior high teams and eventually their high school teams at Buffalo Grove.

The Mocchis, who led the Bison to four consecutive regional and sectional championships, even teammed up in college. Turns out they were just the kind of package deal Northwestern was seeking.

They both started their careers coming off the bench for the Wildcats.

Then, about two years ago, Maggie started having trouble with injuries and illnesses. As they were beginning their junior year last season, Maggie struggled so much that one month into the season she decided she would be better off leaving the team.

While Maggie’s health has improved, she decided not to return to the team this year for her senior season.

And now Allison will start a basketball season, perhaps the final one of her career, without the one person who has been there with her through it all.

“It stinks,” Allison told me at the Big Ten’s basketball media day on Thursday as she, forward Kendall Hackney and head coach Joe McKeown bubbled with enthusiasm in the wake of last year’s 19-14 campaign that ended with a second-round appearance in the WNIT postseason tournament.

“It’s been very hard for me knowing that my comfort, my best friend, my biggest competitor is no longer out there.

“My sister has always been there to support me and pick me up. It’s been a big adjustment.”

But not as big as it could be.

Despite leaving the team, Maggie has not left Northwestern. She’s still finishing up her degree and is sharing a room with Allison in an off-campus apartment.

“I still get to see her a lot, which is good. It’s fun to come home to her,” Allison said of Maggie. “And she’s been so supportive, so helpful when it comes to basketball.

“She’s been pushing me during my workouts, like when I had to do my 400 runs this summer. She’ll go out and rebound for me. She’s helped me improve my game even more.”

All the while, Maggie is keeping a stiff upper lip. She misses her own game.

“I think it bothers her, not playing anymore,” Allison said of Maggie. “It would bother anyone who is used to being competitive.

“But she keeps herself busy. She goes to the gym and shoots on her own and works out still. She’s even thinking about playing for the club team. She definitely misses it a lot, but she’s working hard at school and she’s got an internship. I think she’s looking forward to getting out and starting a job.”

When Allison starts a job herself, the plan is to stay close to Maggie. Very close.

“Our plan since we were really little was to work at the same place and live together,” Allison said with a laugh. “And then when we get married, we’ll just make sure that our husbands know that we’re going to have to live next to each other.”

Allison kept laughing. Kind of joking … kind of not.

“We’re even going to have a connecting tunnel between our houses,” she said. “We’ve thought this through.”

Big Ten’s early birds: Penn State, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan State were voted the preseason favorites by coaches and media as having the best chance to win the Big Ten women#146;s basketball championship.The top players to watch in the conference this year, voted to the preseason all-Big Ten team are: Illinois forward Karisma Penn, Iowa forward Jaime Printy, Michigan State forward Lykendra Johnson, Ohio State guard Samantha Prahalis and Penn State guard Alex Bentley.Prahalis and Bentley were named preseason players of the

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