Double Trouble : Identical Twins Keep Fans and Players Guessing

Times Staff Writer

You wait for the elevator in your apartment complex. The door opens. A tall woman gets out, pushing a 10-speed bike. You walk in and the elevator descends to the basement. The door opens. You look up and gasp, your knees quiver and your head fills with haunting, familiar music as you encounter . . . the same tall woman with the same bike!

Welcome to the Twinlight Zone.

Reality is often blurred in the Twinlight Zone, but there is always a logical explanation for what seems to be illogical. The man in the elevator wasn’t really trapped in another dimension. When the tall woman in the basement noticed his befuddlement, she quickly broke the spell by saying the magic words: “We’re twins.”

Kathleen and Marianne Dixon are accustomed to the life in another dimension. “Crazy things happen all the time,” Kathleen says. The identical twins--only a slight variation in height and hair prevents them from being mirror images--are emissaries of confusion and disbelief, bringing an otherworldly presence to everything they do.


Including sports. The Dixons expand the usual limits of double trouble by playing volleyball and basketball. Fans, players and statisticians can’t tell them apart, even with a score card. “Our stats always get messed up,” Kathleen says, “and sometimes the P.A. announcer announces my name when it should be Marianne’s.”

But there is a twist to the twins’ athletic endeavors: They seem able to read each other’s minds and to anticipate each other’s intentions, which enables them to make passes like Magic Johnson. “Kathleen would toss the ball without looking and I’d be there,” Marianne says.

The twins attend Cal State Northridge. Referred to in the Daily Sundial as the “Dynamic Dixon Duo,” they are stars on the Matadors volleyball team, which opens defense of its NCAA Division II title in a regional playoff tonight.

Last season, the twins were starters in basketball for the Lady Matadors--each averaged nearly 13 points a game--but even though ESP isn’t as essential in volleyball as in basketball, the twins decided to quit basketball this season. This meant giving up half their full scholarships, but all parties concerned believe the move benefits everyone.


“Playing both sports took too much time,” Kathleen says. In the fall especially, the twins would go to class in the morning, practice basketball from 3 to 6 p.m. and volleyball from 6 to 9. The seasons overlapped, with volleyball usually ending in mid-December. Last season, when CSUN won the Division II volleyball title, the twins didn’t get Christmas vacation. They had to report to the basketball team.

And there were other problems in the 2 years the Dixons played basketball, according to Lady Matador basketball Coach Leslie Milke. “Them playing volleyball caused a lot of problems for us,” she says. “It was difficult to get a cohesive unit on the floor because the twins had missed so much. I think we’re much more successful without them.”

Breaking with tradition, Ker and Milke recruited the Dixons for both sports. “We had stopped recruiting 2-sport athletes some time before that,” she says, “but we made an exception for them. We thought they could do it, but doubling is impossible in this day and age.”

So the Dixons will concentrate on volleyball, the sport they like the most. “Remember,” Marianne says, “we chose volleyball. We like practices better. And it’s more of a team sport.”


The Dixons were raised in Burbank but lived in Montana during most of high school until moving to Santa Monica in their senior year. But Montana volleyball wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as the Southern California version. So it wasn’t until they attended Santa Monica High that their volleyball careers really began.

But basketball was still their sport. At Santa Monica, they starred in basketball--Marianne was Bay League MVP, Kathleen runner-up. Although Marianne made all-state in volleyball, their skills were still unhoned. “We weren’t that good,” she says. To which Kathleen adds: “But Walt saw potential in us.”

The twins were redshirted by Ker their freshman year but developed rapidly. Last year, Kathleen started at middle blocker and was named to several all-star teams. This season, both twins have a shot at All-America, says Ker, who calls Kathleen “my top blocker” and Marianne “our top attacker.” And the twins say they’re now better at volleyball than they were at basketball.

Marianne, also a middle blocker, didn’t like being a substitute last season in volleyball--"It was hard sitting on the bench and having Kathleen out there"--but the twins say that a rivalry doesn’t exist between them. “When people ask us who’s the best athlete, we always say we’re the same,” Marianne says. And Kathleen fudges on whether she’s better at volleyball: “I have more experience than Marianne, but I think she’s equally as talented.”


Equal is a good way to describe the twins, who were born in alphabetical order almost 21 years ago. They each have a 3.0 grade-point average at CSUN. They’re majoring in psychology. They have the same taste in clothes. They know each other other’s moods (“I can walk in a room and tell if Kathleen is upset,” Marianne says). They often even think the same thought and say it simultaneously or finish each other’s sentence.

“We talk in stereo and people don’t like to be in the middle,” Marianne says.

But the division of chromosomes isn’t precisely alike. Marianne, at 6 feet, is an inch shorter than her sister, has a natural blond streak in her hair that “God put there to tell us apart,” Kathleen says. The twins also have different personalities. Kathleen describes herself as “a comedian with a serious side.” Marianne says she’s “sociable” but more studious than Kathleen, who likes to spend a lot of time playing video games. Marianne plays trumpet, Kathleen clarinet.

As for sports, “We’ve always done everything together,” Marianne says. Roommates and best friends, the twins are practically inseparable, with one notable exception: “Boys,” Kathleen says. “We go out with them separately.”


The Dixons resist the temptation to trick people by switching identities, with one notable exception: “Boys,” Marianne says. “On the phone, I sometimes make believe I’m Kathleen.”

Sports has rarely seen twins with equal ability. There are the Van Arsdales--Dick and Tom--in basketball and the Mahres--Phil and Steve--in skiing. Nevada Las Vegas has twins on its women’s basketball team--Pauline and Geannine Jordan of Pasadena--but Pauline is the dominant.

The Dixon’s physical resemblance creates havoc with teachers and waitresses and especially the man on the street. Stares and double takes are to a point where the Dixons are considering wearing sweat shirts that say “twins” or “1 of 2.” They even have “classic lines” in response to a stranger’s clever question, “Are you twins?”

“We say ‘No, we went to the same plastic surgeon. Want to be a triplet?’ ” jokes Marianne.


What is it like coaching twins? “I have two people with the same terrible sense of humor instead of one,” Ker deadpans. “They’re like stand-up comics. They act as each other’s straight man--or is that straight woman?”