Senior Spotlight: Phoenixville’s Duncan ready to reconnect with sister at Penn State-Berks

They have more in common than just DNA and their surname.

Maggie Duncan and her older sister, Susan, are united by their affinity for softball … a connection further bolstered by the common experience of playing together on the same teams over the years, their two-year age difference notwithstanding. It’s a connection that will be renewed after two years apart, the Duncans reunited for play at the collegiate level.

This fall, Maggie will join Susan at Penn State University’s Berks campus. She will study business and resume her softball play after being unable to finish her scholastic career at Phoenixville by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am very excited to be playing with Susan next year,” Maggie said, “and can’t wait to work with Penn State Berks Coach Donna Ference and her staff.”

“Maggie’s junior year, her first year with me being away at college, was very impressive to me,” Susan added. “She really proved to everyone that she was a natural leader, and the kind of teammate everybody wants. She handled tough situations with a smile on her face and always put the team before herself.

“I really admire her for that and I am lucky enough to continue to watch her do that for Berks.”

Maggie actually got started in softball at an earlier age than Susan … but not by much.

When she was in fourth grade, she was on the Peco Rec League’s Yankees team. Susan, in turn, was 12 when she debuted with the Phoenixville Youth Babe Ruth League, playing in that system until she was 14-15 years old.

Both advanced to the Valley Forge Patriots. Maggie started with the 12U travel team and remains a member of the Patriots. Susan logged four seasons with VF, seeing action on the mound and at third base and center field.

It didn’t take long for them to become teammates, even with their age difference.

“Occasionally I would be a guest player for her travel team, Valley Forge Patriots with Coach Mike Reid,” Maggie said.

“Since she was younger,” Susan said of Maggie, “she was supposed to still be in tee ball. When her team folded after one practice at PYBRL, my parents convinced my coach to let her play with me in the minor league.

“We both tried out all of the positions, met really great friends, and learned to love the game of softball. A big moment for us was winning the championship that year and it made us start thinking more seriously about softball.”

Their connection carried over to Phoenixville, though not until both were on the high-school team. Susan, a 2018 graduate, took up third as her primary position after starting in left field; Maggie saw time at both first base and right field.

“My junior year of high school, we finally both had the chance to reunite on the field once again for the Phantoms,” Susan said. “My best friend, Aubrey Valenteen, and I encouraged Maggie to go to all the preseason workouts, be a team player, and show enthusiasm at all practice and it worked.

“She made varsity her freshman year, which we were all excited about. My senior year, she became the regular starter at first base and my mom would always say how she loved seeing me whip the ball over from third base to Maggie at first base for an easy out.

“Really, within those two years was when I think Maggie and I became the closest. We spent most of our time either at softball or talking about softball, and at that point it felt like the age difference wasn’t even two years apart.”

Phoenixville senior Maddie Duncan, left, and older sister Susan, right, will play together at Penn State Berks next season. (Submitted)

An All-Pioneer Athletic Conference (Frontier Division) second team pick her sophomore year, Maggie had big hopes for Phoenixville improving on its 8-8 PAC record (8-12 overall) from her junior year.

“Phoenixville was going to be a competitive team in the PAC this year,” she said. “We were looking strong in our winter workouts. Only two teammates graduated last year so we were an experienced team this spring.

“As one of the captains, I was determined to have our team make it further in the playoffs than where we finished last year.”

Those hopes, however, were untracked by the COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled the spring sports season, and the final months of classroom activity, in mid-March.

“I was disappointed not to have a final season at Phoenixville,” Maggie said. “I’m glad that I have 4 more years ahead of me to look forward to.

“School during this pandemic was not bad for me,” she added. “We were fortunate to have a computer for each of us to use, and a strong Wi-Fi connection. I know that wasn’t true for everyone during this pandemic. I had weekly zoom meetings with my teachers. I’m sad that we didn’t have a goodbye in person. Dr. Parkinson, principal of Phoenixville Area High School, and Mrs. Bhalla, College and Career Counselor, did a very good job helping the kids through this terrible time and made the seniors feel very special.”

Susan, for her part, felt worse for Maggie’s circumstances.

“Senior year was honestly my favorite year,” she said, “and I was really looking forward to her having the same moments I did. I was ready to see her excel on the field and represent Phoenixville one last time.”

They were able to keep their playing skills sharp, and their physical condition at peak levels, during the recent “down time.”

“After I was done my school work,” Maggie recalled, “Susan and I would go on runs together to keep in shape. We went out a few times to hit in open fields.

“As a family, we have been walking three miles every night. We have been keeping up our competitive edge by playing cornhole and other yard games.”

At Penn-State Berks, Maggie will be undertaking a business curriculum while Susan continues to major in information science technology, with a concentration in design and development.

“Susan influenced me a small amount,” Maggie said about her college choice. “I was looking at a few other schools and talking with the softball coaches there. The main reason I chose to go to Penn State is because of their strong educational reputation as well as being able to play.

“It’s a nice bonus that I get to play with my sister.”

Susan, for her part, saw Penn State-Berks giving her the opportunity to resume her participation in softball from her high-school experience.

“My freshman year, I went to a different school and did not play softball,” she noted. “When I realized I wanted to transfer, I reached out to Coach Donna (Ference) at Penn State Berks and she gave me the opportunity to play again. I am extremely grateful for that because I really did miss being a part of a team.”

She got to play only eight games for Berks this spring — all in Florida — before the stay-at-home order went into effect. That situation notwithstanding, Susan is happy with the change.

“I’ve met some great people through being on the team,” she said, “and I am really glad I made the switch. In Florida, I got to play center field and shortstop. As the season would’ve went on, I was supposed to spend most of my time playing shortstop.

“I think the funniest part about this is, I still have four more years of eligibility. That means I could technically play with Maggie for another four years.”

To be sure, the sisters’ latest reunion makes their parents (Dave and Toni) just as happy.

“Our parents are excited to see Susan and I on the field together again,” Maggie said. “When we were on travel teams, we were never on the same team because our ages were too far apart. Our parents always had to juggle trying to get to both of our games on the weekends.

“Our dad was a coach for Susan’s team, so he always felt bad missing my games. Our mom was the scorekeeper for my team for a few years, so she had to miss many of Susan’s games. My dad joined my team as a coach when Susan went to college. Now the four of us will be together for the games.”

“It really is special, though, that Maggie and I can do this,” Susan added. “We are lucky to have the relationship that we do, and I would largely account my parents for that. They pushed for Maggie and I to be together a lot; and while it was sometimes hard having your little sister attached to your hip all the time, it worked out for the best and I can truly say my sister is also my best friend.”

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