Katy and Tori Daniels have an unusual edge over other high school players: a rare gift, possessed by maybe 3 percent of the population.
They can read each other’s minds.
“We seem to have some sort of telepathy on the court,” said setter Tori, the older of the two sisters – by just one minute – since the girls are twins.
“It sometimes freaks people out,” said Katy, an outside hitter. “Because we say the exact same thing at the same time and tempo. Sometimes on the car ride to school, we won’t even say anything, because we know the other person’s mind.”
Their coach at Frontier Regional High School in Deerfield, Mass., Sean McDonald, confirms it. “They’ve got this twin telepathy thing going on between them; they know where each other is on the court all the time.”
And not just on the court, McDonald continued. “One time, we were on our way back from a club tournament, and one says to the other: ‘Do you remember—’ ‘Yeah.’ Their thoughts are in sync. They know what they’re going to say, so they cut each other off.”
Although “twin telepathy” has yet to be officially proven in scientific studies, most twins can rattle off a long list of examples from their own experience, and many of their acquaintances can attest to it as well.
But whether from telepathy or not, the Daniels sisters are a force to be reckoned with on the court—far more so than one might expect from two girls who stand a mere 5’6” tall.
“They don’t really look like the kind of player you’d put in the magazine,” admits McDonald. “The [school] principal of Frontier told me he met the twins in the hall the other day, and they’re not exactly what he expected. He was expecting these two 6’1” girls.”
But what the twins lack in height, they more than make up in energy. “They are on a high setting all the time,” said McDonald. “There’s no low/medium/high: they’re stuck on high. It’s like Spinal Tap, ‘our amps go to 11.’ They’re on ‘11’ all the time with their energy level, intensity, and effort. They’re two of the better players in Western Massachusetts.”
To illustrate the influence the twins have on their team, at the time of publication, Frontier – which must cobble together four towns’ worth of students just to make one small Division III school – just defeated the top two Division I schools in Massachusetts, and one of those victories was a sweep.
“State champs New Bedford were 23-0 in 2009, 9-0 going into our match,” said McDonald. “And we beat them 3-0. Katy and Tori were absolutely instrumental in that victory. Both were double-digits in digs, Katy had 14 kills, Tori had 29 assists in that match.”
And just to show this wasn’t a fluke, that same week, the Redhawks also vanquished Barnstable, an even stronger Division I team.
“If you were going to ask someone in Massachusetts who’s the premier team in the state, it would be Barnstable,” said McDonald. “Twelve state championships, 100 straight match victories in a row. We beat them in five. So we’re pretty proud of how we’re doing.”
But things weren’t always so good for the Daniels twins. Originally from Phoenix, they were forced to pull up roots between their freshman and sophomore years, leaving friends and family behind to move across the country to South Hadley, Mass., where their mother, a Church of Christ minister, had received a pastorship.
If the name South Hadley sounds familiar, that is probably because South Hadley High School made national headlines this year, when 15-year-old Irish immigrant Phoebe Prince, relentlessly hounded and bullied by students at the school, committed suicide.
A year before that tragedy, the Daniels twins got their own taste of South Hadley’s unfriendliness—though in their case, it was less a case of bullying and more invisibility.
“It was an issue of us being ignored and unseen and invisible to the entire school,” said Tori. “People knew who we were, but didn’t really see us.”
For two such extroverted girls, this ostracism was hard to bear. “We’re not unfriendly or shy, we’re really outgoing,” says Tori. “So it was such a huge shock that no one at South Hadley wanted to reach out to us and be our friend.”
Their year at South Hadley was a dark one, but it did offer one ray of light.
“After the fall season, we played on a winter-spring club team, and we became really close with one girl in particular, Kendra. So we decided, why not go to a school where we had at least one really good friend?”
Tori’s club team coach also happened to be McDonald. This has led some at South Hadley to accuse him of recruiting the twins away from South Hadley to play for Frontier—a practice forbidden in Massachusetts, where the “old” school must pay for the transferring student’s education at the “new” school. To discourage student transfers, some schools refuse to sign a waiver stating that the student wasn’t recruited, and this is what South Hadley chose to do.
Despite the remarkable coincidence, McDonald staunchly denies that he recruited the twins. “The fact is that South Hadley had no knowledge of wrongdoing or recruitment, because there was none. What South Hadley said was that the twins had friends on the Frontier team, which was true; and that they played on an off-season team coached by me, which was true. I don’t know that that’s proof of any ‘wrongdoing.’ If you’re going to say I did something wrong, you should probably have some proof of that.”
The twins also dismiss the recruiting allegation: “The accusations are totally false,” says Katy. “The reason we moved to Frontier was because the friends we made on the Junior Olympic team went to Frontier. It just so happens that Sean was the coach, so it got messy. Actually, Sean didn’t want to hear anything about our decision. He told us not to say anything about it around him, because he didn’t want to be accused of anything.”
Because South Hadley refused to sign off on the transfer, Katy and Tori had to sit out their entire junior year at Frontier. Missing an entire year of their beloved sport was hard on the girls, but they found ways to be involved with the team, keeping score and compiling statistics.
Then, this fall, they finally got their chance to play—and all the pent-up energy, all the frustration, all the struggles they’d been through exploded onto the court with a vengeance. With their help Frontier has notched a perfect 17-0 record, performing more like a Division I team than DIII, sweeping away the strongest teams Massachusetts has to offer.
This stellar record isn’t entirely the twins’ doing. Volleyball is a team sport after all, and it doesn’t hurt that the Redhawks also boast another star on their roster: Cassidy Stankowski, one of the top players in the state. Therefore, it is hard to pinpoint just one factor behind Frontier’s success this season. But if you ask the twins, they would probably say it’s the telepathy.
Originally published in January 2011