It Takes Two
When you talk to Ben and Zach Lieb, one word pops up more than anything: We.
Ask them what happens when they play tennis against each other. You’ll get an answer that anyone with siblings can relate to.
“We fight,” Ben said.
Almost immediately after Ben finished his sentence, Zach chimed in: “We always, whenever we play any sport, we always somehow get into an argument.”
The sophomore twin brothers from Newtown Square, Pa.—featured in our March/April issue—are really good at this. Sometimes, one will start a sentence, the other will jump in and continue the thought, and the one who kicked things off will interject one last time to finish what the two of them said.
As you can guess, the pair have a bond that is impossible to replicate. This goes beyond tennis: In addition to playing on the same team, they live together and are both business majors (Ben is majoring in supply chain management, Zach plans on majoring in finance). Even the decision to attend Penn State stemmed from the fact that the two wanted to be together. Ask them if they planned on attending the same university, and “we” pops up immediately.
“We were always a package deal,” Ben said. “We’re so used to being together, we live with each other, here and at home, obviously. We always wanted to go to school together.”
Schools like Louisville, Richmond, Boston, and Penn all tried to acquire the services of the Liebs. Eventually, the desire to play a Division I sport, get a degree from the Smeal College of Business, and represent their state school meant Penn State checked all the boxes.
It helped that they were given the opportunity to come to Happy Valley as a package deal. It’s not a huge surprise—according to tennisrecruiting.net, both were five-star recruits after wildly successful high school careers at The Haverford School. Over the Liebs’ four years at the school, Haverford accrued an absurd 94-1-1 record.
“We won a few league titles in a row,” Ben recalled. “Then we got to our senior year, we got invited to play at the National High School All-American tournament in California where we finished sixth, we were on the all-tournament team there.”
“It’s team oriented, but it’s singles and doubles, so you play six singles and three doubles,” Zach continued. “We could play both, same as college. Ben and I were selected as All-Tournament team, I think there were 10 of us…”
“And then eventually All-Americans after that,” Ben interjected.
“High school All-Americans,” Zach quickly clarified.
Thanks to their chemistry, success, and time they’ve spent playing with one another—they first picked up rackets when they were around 4 and played in their first tournaments before they turned 10—the pair know each other on the court better than anyone. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that Zach “hates” playing Ben, because “we’ve played so many times it’s boring.”
Still, they rely on each other. Despite being different players—the hallmark of Ben’s game is consistency, while Zach’s style of play is based around power—they would always make it a point to prepare and warm up with one another growing up while attending tournaments. This has helped them on the court in a few ways. Getting coaching from someone who knows their game so well is a benefit, but being teammates with your brother also forces you to step up your level of competition on and off the court.
“You don’t wanna be left behind,” Zach said. “If I see Ben doing well in school or tennis, I’m gonna try and catch up.”
After their freshman years, Zach admitted he had a little bit of catching up to do—he accrued a 5-4 singles record and a 6-5 doubles mark as a freshman (Ben went 20-10 in singles and 9-3 in doubles). While Ben thought the two adjusted pretty easily, Zach disagreed, at least when it came to tennis.
“I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to last year, but I’ve been playing a lot better this year,” Zach said. “Our courts are really fast … It’s all power tennis—big serves, big forehand, points are really fast, just not something I was used to coming in. I think I’ve caught on now.”
Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t as high on how he played in the fall, admitting to losing some matches he thought he should have won. Two things he wanted to focus on heading into the spring were his mental toughness and consistency over the course of an entire match.
They’re different off the court, too.
“We’re different, but we like to do the same things,” Ben said. “Growing up, we were always active, we weren’t huge into video games…”
“…I think people would say you’re more serious than I am,” Zach interjected. “I have kind of a goofy personality. I might have read a little bit more. I’m a bit smarter, that’s why.”
“I don’t know about that,” Ben quickly replied.
Like Ben said—they’re brothers. They fight.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor