By Shannon Westberg
Sac City Express Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO - Fraternal twins Ashley and Mackenzie Duval will face off Tuesday, April 9, when their respective softball teams—San Joaquin Delta and Sacramento City College—compete for the potential top spot in the Big 8 Conference.
(Editor's note: Sacramento City won the Apr. 9 matchup, 6-1)
Last year the 20-year-old Duval sisters both played softball for City College. In the 15 years they have played softball, this is the first year they have competed against each other. It is also the first year they have lived so far apart. As their lives begin to venture in new directions, the April 9 game will be the last time they play softball on the same field together.
"We've been playing for 15 years—we've gotta move on somehow. I think it's about time," said Ashley. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm a little bit nervous because we're both in the top two (in the conference standings), so this game is definitely going to be the breaker for it."
"It will probably be an emotional game," said Mackenzie. "I know last time (the teams played each other) it was emotional because it was the first time we were playing each other, and I think (this) time it will be worse. I'm going to adjust and fix what I messed up the last time we played. We've gotta finish this thing strong."
City College has played Delta twice so far this season, each team claiming one win and one loss.
"It was fun," said Ashley of the first time the teams played each other. "Mackenzie caught my ball in center field. I was trying to give her a thumbs up, but she wouldn't look at me. I think she was just distracted, like, 'Oh, yeah!'"
"I think it's better this year playing against each other," said Mackenzie. "It's like I want to root for her at the same time I'm rooting for my team. It's hard because I'll have a bad game and she'll have a good game, or she'll have a bad game and I'll have a good game. So we're kind of competing in that way—like whose game is it this time?"
The twins' mom, Shelly Duval, a labor and delivery nurse at Kaiser Permanente Modesto Medical Center, started them playing T-ball at age 5.
"I can't throw a ball for my life, but I've always wanted to have kids in sports," said Shelly.
Their competitive play began at age 9 when they joined a travel softball team with USA Elite. Their travel softball coach, Billy Atkins, also a coach and recruiter for City College, would eventually introduce Mackenzie and Ashley to Panthers head softball coach Tim Kiernan.
"It was OK coaching them together—they're different, you know. I've had a lot of twins over the years," said Kiernan on coaching the sisters during the 2018 season.
After last season Ashley opted to move home to Escalon and transfer to San Joaquin Delta.
"I had missed being home," she said. "I have a boyfriend here, too, so that was a big reason.
"It's been great at Delta. I love it. The coaching staff is great here. They make it known that they're never going to yell at us. They do get mad at us, but they just want to see us succeed," said Ashley.
Both women, who describe their connection as sisters and twins as "having a built-in best friend all the time," emphasize how important they have been to each other's success.
"I really missed it [playing with Mackenzie] in the beginning," said Ashley. "She's always the one that says, 'Dude, why didn't you dive for that ball?' She's my toughest coach."
Ashley counts the year living with her sister in Sacramento as probably her favorite memory because they learned so much together and got really close.
"Yeah, it's hard not to have her here this year," said Mackenzie. "My sister doesn't have a filter. She'll tell me, she won't hold anything back. Sometimes it's brutal, but it's facts."
Referring to Ashley as the "responsible one," Mackenzie added, "Coming out here to Sacramento, I would have been lost by myself, but having her was really something I needed the first year because I wouldn't have been able to do it by myself."
The twins report that being apart is getting easier. They still talk or text almost every day, and they see each other every week or two.
Shelly said she is adjusting to being apart from the twins as well. "It's always just been us three," said Shelly, who is amazed by FaceTime because "you really feel like you see them every day, so I didn't miss them that much."
Mackenzie describes her bond with her mother as very strong and close. "My mom was a supermom; she did it all," she said.
The twins also credit Shelly, who became a registered nurse before the age of 21, as their inspiration to pursue careers in nursing.
"Growing up, I always thought it was so cool that she delivered babies, and she was kind of always a hero in a way, so I kind of just wanted to be like her," said Mackenzie.
"I've wanted to be a nurse since I was little, just because she did," said Ashley, who thinks she will choose labor and delivery nursing like her mom, but is open to looking at other types of nursing, too.
Ashley said she expects this season to be her last playing softball. She has one more year at Delta and then plans to transfer to California State University, Stanislaus, to earn her BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing).
Mackenzie is looking to attend Cumberland University in Tennessee next year, where she will live with family friends and play softball for a couple more years before working toward her BSN.
"It's only two years—anything can happen in two years. I'm nervous, but I always have people telling me, 'It will be fine' and 'Keep going' and encouraging me to make good decisions," she said. "It's not going to be easy. I know that I'm going to miss my family a lot."