By Anna Braunsdorf
They say that two is better than one.
For the University of North Alabama volleyball team in the 1990s, that was certainly the case. Identical twins Rachel Price, now Rachel Bell, and Ronda Price, now Ronda Brinley, were major contributors for the Lions from 1996 to 1999 and became two of the most athletically and academically decorated volleyball student-athletes in Division II history.
The identical duo in fact was the Gulf South Conference’s female nominee for the Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team being honored this year.
“Ronda came in being an all-star, basically,” Bell said. “In our freshman year, we weren’t expected to do well, but we were 44-4. She was a main part of that.”
Bell’s talents quickly developed, too.
“The next couple of years she got significantly more amazing,” Brinley said.
Both Bell and Brinley were outside hitters, and together they helped their team go 156-22 overall and 47-1 in league play during their four years as starters with the Lions. They also led the team to four consecutive Gulf South Conference titles and four straight trips to the Division II Women’s Volleyball Championship, including two Elite Eight appearances.
Although their on-the-court successes might suggest differently, volleyball was only half of the reason Bell and Brinley chose to attend North Alabama.
“We were there to get an education,” Brinley said. “And obviously, volleyball was a perk that we really enjoyed.”
Bell agreed. “I enjoyed having the opportunity to play volleyball without everything just being about volleyball,” she said.
Because the class sizes at North Alabama were small, the teachers got to know their students on a personal level.
“We always had it very easy in that we could speak with our professors anytime we wanted to,” Brinley said.
They could also speak to each other. Bell and Brinley were roommates through most of college, and they took several of the same classes—a set-up that had obvious advantages when it came to studying.
“I actually remember a time in our dorm room where we stayed up all night, trading questions and studying for a test the next day,” Bell said.
“Academically, she’s always been smarter than me,” Brinley said. “She was the salutatorian in high school, and she was the valedictorian at North Alabama. But I’ve been in the top 10. I’m OK with that!”
Bell and Brinley each earned All-America and Academic All-America honors, making them two of only eight North Alabama students to have received both distinctions.
In addition, Bell was named the Division II Conference Commissioners Association National Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2000. And Brinley received the Gulf South Conference Commissioner’s Trophy as the league’s premier female student-athlete in 1998. She also was named the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Small College Athlete of the Year in 1997.
Both Bell and Brinley received postgraduate scholarships from the NCAA after graduating from North Alabama. Bell’s scholarship was for physics and chemistry, and Brinley’s was for chemistry.
Bell went on to earn a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Purdue in 2004. After graduation, she stayed in West Lafayette and began working as a clinical project manager, coordinating clinical studies for new medical devices.
Brinley also moved to Indiana after college and graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where she subsequently completed her residency. She now works in Fort Wayne, Ind., as an anesthesiologist.
In 2011, Bell and Brinley were both inducted into the North Alabama Athletic Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
“I think both academically and in sports, it’s helpful to have confidence – to know that if you do your best, you will do well,” Bell said. “I felt like if I worked hard, then there was really nothing in terms of academics or sports, really, that I couldn’t do well at and have fun.”
Things were even more fun for Bell and Brinley because they got to experience them together.
Said Brinley: “There are benefits to being a twin.”