It takes two

Pete Barrows

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After four years (sometimes more) of hard work and dedication, students will twist tassels while carefully trying not to trip on graduation gown hems as they walk across the stage at the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids.

Each graduate will earn a rolled up paper, a brief moment on camera, and a handshake with Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas, with many restless nights and days without naps paid as a toll to cross a proverbial bridge.

Briauna and Brittany Taylor understand this as well as anyone. Inseparable multi-sport athletes since the days of AAU, Briauna and Brittany took their talents to Allendale — instead of Eastern Michigan University of the NCAA Division I — so they could continue to play both softball and basketball, and together, they’ve made the thing go right and excelled on every platform they’ve traversed.

Since they enrolled at GVSU as wide-eyed freshman in 2009 until now, when they jettison the athletic program as seasoned veterans of 15 varsity seasons, together the Taylors have combined to supply 2,177 points, 975 rebounds, 280 assists, 206 steals, 29 blocks and 110 3-pointers in 4,004 minutes on the hardwood, as well as 237 runs, 305 hits, 200 RBI, 26 doubles, 18 triples, 38 home runs, 481 total bases, 66 walks, 24 hit-by-pitches and 41 stolen bases and counting on the softball diamond in 836 at-bats.

“It’s bittersweet,” Briauna said. “It’s crazy to think back on how we were as a freshman, and it’s a weird feeling to be almost done. That said, right now, we’re matured to the point where were about ready to go out and enter the real world — to go onto the next thing.”

On the basketball court, Briauna played on the ball and inside, Brittany from the perimeter, and both played with high energy on defense. On the diamond, Briauna centers the infield at shortstop, while Brittany has assumed command in center field; both are potent at the plate and on the bags, even when they occasionally covertly switch positions Parent Trap-style and trade pop flies for groundballs in practice.

Both have set individual school records during their tenures at GVSU, but counted together, they’d have rewritten every mark in the book. Both have made their mark in both sports — a rare feat to begin with — but not even Bo Jackson brought a twin sibling along for the ride.

Both are also leaders — and good ones.

“They’re both very, very talented, athletic individuals that have done very well on the field, but the intrinsics – they’re both exceptionally good team players that create a great moral for the other girls on the team – make them special,” softball coach Doug Woods said. “It’s been our pleasure to have them in the program, not only their athletic skills, but their character and what they bring to the team in regard to leadership skills.”

Both have also put an arsenal of skills gleamed from and sharpened by sports to use in other venues, and what little free time they’ve found away from the games has not been left to sit idle.

As members of the diverse, three-product design and manufacturing engineering students and two-business-student Team Fluition, a limited liability company (LLC) that designed and marketed a unique sit-to-stand hospital device, the twins have helped win $35,000 in prize money — $15,000 of which was won on Friday in the MWest Challenge. The prize will be used to consult a patent lawyer, manufacture prototype devices, commercialize the product and fund the company’s future endeavors.

“GV swept all of the top three places (in the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize competition), and we were proud to have not only contributed to our team, but to have helped represent the school in a positive light,” Brittany said. “The whole process – from getting a patent to designing logos, websites, prototypes, animation videos of the prototype, keeping in touch with old contacts and creating new ones – is all very entailed and expensive, but we’ve made great headway as a team and have grown a lot through the process.”

Almost halfway through softball’s regular season, the Taylors’ time as GVSU athletes is nearing a conclusion. Both hope to extend their careers with another deep playoff run, after which they plan to attend nursing school.

Brittany, a finance major, and Briauna, a marketing and human resources major, have backgrounds in health sciences, as well as aspirations of working in hospital administration.

Both plan to further the growth of Fluition toward funding start-up expenses, estimated at less than $100,000 just six month into the venture, and new projects with high expectations before selling the company in five to seven years to a major medical device producer.

Yet as talented as they both are together in both sports, as much as they have accomplished, it isn’t the “both” that defines the Taylors.

Briauna and Brittany room together on the road, share a contact prescription, have traveled similar paths — including a joint a trip to GVSU’s inaugural Twin Day hosted Sunday — but are fraternal twins with personalities as distinct as their games.

They are different people, even though they do a lot of things together a lot of the time.

As similar as they are, they’re complements as opposed to replications. Both are ambitious, willing to use their extensive experience to take charge and help others along. They set lofty goals and work hard to achieve them, and they hold each other accountable to stay competitive, but both do so in a way that is their own.

And as complements, GVSU will not soon forget the impact the Taylor twins have made during their tenure.

“We’ve been around for a while here, so I like to think that we have it all figured out,” Briauna said. “We have a real young team, and it’s nice to have someone look up to you, to ask questions regarding life, school, work or what happens next after classes.

“Over the years, we’ve both played a lot of seasons and have really come to realize what’s important. I don’t remember our record in softball or basketball my sophomore year, the games we won, the stats, but I do remember the life experiences we’ve had, the bus rides, the teammates, and the lifelong relationships we’ve built.”

Right on cue, Brittany extends the thought. “Five years from now, people won’t remember what your batting average is, but they will remember, ‘Oh you’re the one that did this or helped me out with that,’” Brittany said. “It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you impact those around you. We really believe that it’s about how people remember you, not what you accomplished, and that’s something that I hope we can instill with everyone we come in contact with, sports or otherwise, along the way.”