GATE CITY - Gate City seniors Heather and Haley Odle don't look exactly alike. They don't sound exactly alike and they don't always think exactly alike.
Even so, the athletically gifted fraternal twins who transferred to Gate City from Coeburn last year are as inseparable as siblings can be.
"People still call us by the wrong names. It must be a twin thing," said Haley, a 5-foot-9 blonde.
"The best part about being twins is that you always have somebody around with you. You don't have to do anything by yourself," said Heather, a 5-foot-7 brunette who is the older of the pair by one minute.
The Odles may very well be the best female athletes to come out of Coeburn since Christy Gray. The twins became acquainted with Gate City players and coaches through summer softball and 3-on-3 basketball. The girls played against the Lady Blue Devils in both varsity sports as freshmen at Coeburn High School.
Transferring to Gate City was originally Haley's idea. By the end of her freshman year, she was convinced it was where she wanted to play. Heather was more ambivalent, however, and the family stayed in Coeburn for another year.
"I wanted to go and Heather was undecided. That made it real tough on my parents. They felt like they didn't know if they could please us both," said Haley.
"But they finally felt it would be better if we came over here, that we'd have a better chance of getting out of the district and region ... and get better exposure for college."
Haley's instincts were validated almost immediately. Both played significant roles on Gate City's 2005-06 Group A state championship basketball squad. The defending state champion Lady Blue Devil softball team got derailed in the Region D tournament by Honaker last spring, but both seasons were great experiences as far as the twins are concerned.
"It's been a blast. If I had to do it 10 times over I'd never make a different decision than the one I have," Haley said. "It's not like we didn't work for it. We worked long and hard."
For all her initial reluctance, Heather is as enthusiastic about being at Gate City as Haley was about moving there in the first place.
She loves the school and said she "wouldn't take it back for anything." And she appreciates the sacrifices her parents have made.
"Every day, my dad drives an hour to work at Coeburn and back when he had been driving five minutes," said Heather. "He took that upon himself to give us what we wanted."
The Gate City community and student body has welcomed the girls. Coeburn, on the other hand, was not so happy to see them go. While most of the bitterness appears to have subsided, there were a few rude catcalls when Gate City played Coeburn last year.
"We've still got friends in Coeburn. We still hang out with some of them. We still talk," Haley said. "Your true friends don't change. The people who bashed us behind our backs, they didn't really care in the first place."
Both girls are focused on getting the Lady Blue Devils back to the Group A Final Four. Haley is taking a stronger scoring role this year, particularly in the paint. Since the graduation of all-state guard Brittany Rogers, Heather has stepped up her 3-point shooting and has assumed even more responsibility as the squad's chief ball handler.
As a result, Haley currently averages about 14 points per game. Heather averages 10 points and about four assists per game at point guard.
It's too soon to think too much about softball, but both will be among the area's best. Haley will suit up behind the plate at catcher, a position she fell in love with last season. Heather, who played the infield last year, most likely will move to the pitching spot vacated by graduated ace Chelsea Osborne.
"We don't have much of a life outside of sports," Heather said with a laugh.
That's sort of true. But it's a good life.
Along with teammate Tuesdee Woods, the twins find time to coach a church league basketball team in Gate City. The sisters are also leaders of a Wednesday night athletes' devotional group with Gate City youth evangelist Mike Jenkins.
Both girls expect to have college athletic careers but neither is certain at which school - or even in which sport - they'll be playing at the next level.
Heather is getting looks from Milligan, ETSU and Hood College for basketball and from Milligan and Virginia-Wise in softball. Haley is talking to Emory & Henry and Lynchburg about basketball and ETSU and Milligan about softball. She hasn't ruled out playing at Virginia Tech as a softball walk-on.
"There's always a possibility we could split up in college, but chances are we could go together somewhere," Haley said. "We could end up going for different sports. It depends on where the offers are."
"It's pretty hard to tell," Heather said. "We'd be pretty hard to separate at this point. But who knows what's out there for us?"