Double Indemnity

by Gary Pine

Azusa Pacific University’s softball team is doubly protected from loss or damage. With juniors and twin sisters Rachel and Megan Alkire, the 2004 nationally ranked Cougar team boasts a solid backbone of strength and talent.

Identical in every sense of the word, Rachel and Megan live together, attend classes together, play softball together, and even speak together. Ask a question and one receives a stereo answer, with matching tone and facial expressions. It takes a seasoned veteran, someone who has spent time with them, to be able to distinguish the Alkire sisters. Physically, they are exact duplicates. Personality-wise, however, they are mirror images.

“Clean, unclean,” said Megan, first pointing to Rachel, then to herself to establish at least one difference between the two. Rachel points her finger a little more delicately. “Organized, unorganized. Megan starts a paper due the next morning at 9 o’clock at night, and I’ll already be done with it. When it comes to business, I get it done.”

“Whenever I get to it, I get to it,” responded Megan with a wry smile.

Knowing that they are nearly indistinguishable to the untrained eye, the sisters on rare occasions (three to be exact) have used their personality differences and identical looks for their own amusement.

Although they claim they have never pulled the “switcheroo” in college, they still tag-team for academic success. “We have just one book between the two of us for each class,” said Rachel. “I’ll take one subject, and Megan takes another. Then we share with one another what the book is about.”

That kind of agreement requires a healthy amount of faith, and there is no shortage of trust between these women. During their senior year at James Logan High School in the Northern California town of Union City, they looked at numerous colleges, all within California, but far enough from home so that they could enjoy the on-campus, living-learning environment. Many schools were not interested in the combined twin-sister package. Yet Megan and Rachel were not about to be split up over college choices.

“I’ve always had somebody I knew [in Rachel],” said Megan. “I never worried about going off to college by myself, because I already knew someone, someone who knew me really well.”

“This has turned more into a best friend rather than twin sister relationship,” Rachel said. “We get kind of annoyed when other twins don’t hang out together.

I want to know what’s wrong with them, because we do everything together. We’re happy for each other.”

That “happiness,” however, was put to the test during the 2003 softball season. The twins have always excelled side by side on the field and in the classroom. In fact, they are on pace to earn National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-America Scholar-Athlete recognition this year for their academic prowess. “There is competition between us to do at least as well as the other,” said Megan. On the softball field, though, Rachel began to exhibit some difference.

Both play middle infield positions and are pitchers. Megan put together a fine 2003 sophomore campaign in which she batted .300, while fashioning an 8-5 record as a pitcher. She hammered 19 doubles and 4 home runs and carved out a 1.66 earned run average – numbers that were second-best on the team. As the season unfolded, though, Rachel began to post some eye-popping statistics that rated among the best-ever in Azusa Pacific history. By season’s end, she led the team in hitting (.404), RBIs (59), slugging percentage (.736), and home runs (12). As a result, she was named the Golden State Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year and earned NAIA All-American first team recognition – 1 of just 20 players in the nation to be so honored.

“I think you got a little frustrated,” said Rachel, eyeing Megan. “I’m not saying you’re mad at me for doing well, but that you were more frustrated with your play. We’re hard on ourselves. If we don’t get it done, then who will? It’s about letting others down if we don’t do it.”

They acknowledge that there are no petty jealousies between them, and that they truly share in each other’s successes. During last year’s NAIA regional playoffs in San Diego, Azusa Pacific was on the brink of elimination. Down 4-0 to The Master’s College in the bottom of the fifth, the Cougars needed something drastic to change the game. They turned to their all-star-in-the-making: Rachel Alkire. The bases were full and there were two outs; APU was not exactly crushing the ball at the time.

“Rachel turned to everyone in the dugout and said, ‘I’m going up there to hit a home run,’” recalled Megan. “I said, ‘Okay, go for it.’” True to her word, Rachel launched a grand slam deep over the centerfield wall to knot the game at 4-4, and the Cougars added three more runs the next inning, winning 7-4 and ending The Master’s season rather than their own. “Everyone in the dugout was just amazed,” said Megan. “Rachel said it, then did it. I believed she would all along.”

Admittedly, on or off the field, Rachel, who is one minute older, is the one who pulls the rope with Megan following along. Not when it came to choosing Azusa Pacific, though. That was a combined decision. Their older sister, Melanie, who had been recruited to APU four years earlier, had just completed a stellar softball career at the University of Notre Dame, where she was named the Big East Conference Player of the Year. But the big time and eastern schools were not attractive to the twins.

“The environment at Azusa Pacific really mattered to us,” said Rachel. “Everyone is so outgoing and compassionate. People back home didn’t understand or even know where APU was. We told them that if they went there, they’d understand why we chose this university. It’s the best environment ever. It’s a world of opportunity.”

“Selecting APU was life-changing [for us],” said Megan. “When we went to chapel, I said to myself, ‘Oh, I can do this everyday.’ It’s incredible. It opened my eyes to how things worked.”

Indeed, two Alkires may have impacted one softball program. Their combined talent and drive have undeniably strengthened APU’s team. But, on an even greater scale, one university has impacted two sisters – welcoming them as a part of the family and stretching them to become better people than even they could have imagined.

Gary Pine ’84 is assistant director of athletics in the Athletics Department.