By John Knebels

Special to The CS&T

Meet a couple of identical twins and sooner or later, the question needs to be asked:

Have you ever taken advantage of your indistinguishable looks by playing a trick on someone?

“I remember when we were in kindergarten and I think it was April Fools Day,” said Shelbey Manthorpe, referring to her days at St. Dorothy School in Drexel Hill, from where she and her sister Stacey graduated. “We played a trick on the principal by switching places.”

Shelbey chuckled. “She wasn’t really happy about it.”

Since then, Shelbey insists that the twins have resisted the temptation to psych someone out. Now when it comes to psyching someone out on a volleyball court, however, that’s an entirely different matter.

For the past two seasons, the Manthorpe twins have been a key factor in Merion Mercy Academy’s volleyball dominance. The defending state champion Golden Bears, now ranked 19th in the nation, were undefeated last year and have yet to lose a match this fall despite a challenging regular-season schedule.

While the sophomores are a delight to talk with and exude palpable warmth and hospitality, put a volleyball in their hands and be prepared to run quickly for cover.

Shelbey is a setter, and Stacey is a middle hitter on the front line. What makes them particularly adept at executing spikes is that, quite often, the six-feet-tall pair seems to communicate almost telepathically as the play begins to develop.

“There’s definitely some of that,” said Stacey, a right-hander unlike her left-handed sister. “It’s hard to describe. We just sometimes know what the other one is thinking.”

Amazingly, Stacey and Shelbey aren’t the only twins in the Manthorpe family. Twin siblings Robbie and Sidney were born eight years ago.

Stacey and Shelbey aren’t the only volleyball players in the extended family either. Cousin Colleen Downey is a Merion player on the junior varsity team. Colleen’s sister, Kim, played at Merion and is now volleyball manager at Villanova University.

When it comes to reflecting on their Merion education, the Manthorpe sisters could barely contain themselves.

“I know that (teenagers) often say how they hate school all the time, but I can honestly say that I love everything about Merion and actually look forward to school every day,” said Shelbey. “I’m never like, ‘Oh no, Bio class.’ I’m never bored. I never even look at the clock.”

Ditto, said Stacey who, like her sister, was recruited to play for St. Dorothy’s volleyball team while in fourth grade because there weren’t enough players to form a fifth-sixth grade junior varsity.

When she combines the benefits of challenging coursework, community service, athletics and social opportunities, Stacey said that while she looks forward to college someday, she doesn’t want her days at Merion to be rushed.

“It’s hard academically, but the work you put in is so worth it in the end,” said Stacey. “We gain so much spiritually, too. I think the service projects have a lot to do with that.”

Both sisters are involved inhelping Philabundance, the region’s largest hunger relief organization.

Whenever the two travel there by car, Shelbey gets the front seat. In fact, that’s pretty much standard no matter where they go.

It’s just one of the perks that go along with being the older sister, even if it’s by only 30 minutes.

“She won’t let me forget she’s older,” said Stacey. “Even if I wanted to get the front seat, she would get there first because she runs faster than I do.”

Stacey portrays her sister as her best friend and “probably the funniest person I know.” She has often witnessed Shelbey turning frowns into smiles “just by being loving” toward everyone.

Shelbey downplayed the compliment.

“I guess I like to crack a few jokes now and then,” she said. “Usually I just make fun of myself. It lightens the mood.”

Like it did back in kindergarten. Oh, that’s right. It didn’t.

Can’t blame the twins for trying.