- Beth Mowins, Women's Basketball
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Megan, Molly and Moriah Frazee are competitive and driven young women. The triplets, who play basketball together at Liberty University, have even dabbled in sibling rivalry since the day they were born.
They arrived on a busy night in a Laredo, Texas, hospital in March 1987 -- 10 weeks premature. Even then, the Frazees were competing to see who would be born first.
In an interesting twist, their mother, Tammy Frazee, was prepped and ready to deliver by C-section -- but the doctors faced a dilemma. In the delivery room, the clock was about to strike midnight. To the doctors' dismay, if one of the babies came out quickly and the others were delayed, the triplets would not share the same birthday.
So the medical staff unwittingly brought Dean Smith and Phil Ford into the room, stalled as best they could and played the medical version of a "four corners" to work the clock. Some might even call it the Frazee family's first foray into March Madness.
But sure enough, the strategy paid off. The baby girls arrived together shortly after midnight on March 29, 1987, with Megan Frazee winning the race. Molly and then Moriah were born several minutes later, all of them weighing in at just around 3 pounds. Megan is a fraternal triplet, while Molly and Moriah are identical.
The triplets -- now sophomores -- were able to share the same birthday, and have been sharing just about everything else for the past 19½ years.
From the start, first-born Megan has led the way. She watched Zeb, her brother who is just one year older, with his basketball, and by her second Christmas decided she wanted one too. While Santa brought Molly and Moriah baby strollers for their dolls, Megan was conducting ballhandling drills on the tile floor in the family kitchen.
Megan would be the first to walk, to ride a bike and to let go of the side of the pool to swim on her own. She and Zeb shot hoops out in the driveway, and by the second grade they had convinced the other two girls that basketball was going to be the family's game of choice.
But it wasn't the first time. Tammy Frazee and husband, Jim, both grew up in Indiana, where basketball is a way of life. Jim grew up in a small town and had a hoop hanging on the back side of his house. Tammy also played as a young girl and the tradition was passed on to their daughters.
As the triplets moved into middle-school age, Jim became their AAU coach and the family spent plenty of time together in gymnasiums and on the road.
"It was a lot of fun growing up together," said Megan, a guard/forward who leads Liberty in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounding (10.3). "Even before my dad started coaching us we would go to his practices with other teams and shoot baskets on the side of the gym. We've grown up around the game."
They've grown up into young women -- Megan and Moriah are 6-foot-3 and Molly is 6-2 -- who still enjoy playing the game together and are the only triplets at the Division I level that play for the same team.
The recruiting process threatened to split up the girls after high school, but they decided they wanted to play together and attend a Christian college. The recruitment of a student-athlete can be overwhelming at times for a family, so imagine it multiplied by three.
"Big Ten schools were interested in Megan," Jim Frazee recalled. "She probably received letters from over 100 schools. I think we counted that Moriah had over 80 schools interested and Molly heard from over 70. But only a handful wanted to take all three and it came down to Liberty and Cedarville University in the Midwest near where we lived."
That's when fate intervened. At an AAU tournament in Tennessee, Jim ran into an old friend from Hanover College in Indiana. The man had a daughter, Rachel Hammond, who was committing to play basketball at Liberty. When the girls visited the school, they hit it off with Rachel and felt comfortable on campus, and decided it was the place to be.
"We are thankful they could stay together," admitted Tammy Frazee, who has moved to Virginia with Jim to be closer to the kids, including Zeb, who is a junior at Liberty. "That's four more years at the same school on the same team.
"We know they won't always be together, but it's wonderful for all of us to have this opportunity."
It's wonderful for Liberty basketball as well. Coach Carey Green, whose team is 5-2 after a narrow loss to Virginia Tech on Tuesday, has built a powerhouse program that has become a fixture in the NCAA Tournament. Two years ago it was the talk of the tournament, upsetting Penn State and DePaul to earn a trip to the Sweet 16.
"[The Frazees] are a wonderful family and so down to earth," Green said. "The girls just love to compete and love to play together. You have to respect them as individuals but also appreciate what they can do collectively. They are all about the team."
The Frazee triplets understand they might have a familiarity to each other's games that many other teammates might not have. But they are quick to attribute that quality to having played together so much, to working so hard and not just because they share a bloodline.
"You always have your best friends around," Megan said. " On the court I guess we have a unique bond and I really enjoy playing with them. It's fun to watch my sisters grow and develop their games. But like any sisters and teammates, we get after each other sometimes. We know it's to help each other out and to get better. We understand what the others are trying to do."
And they have developed their games to the point where the Frazees are not some novelty act. They are good -- the Frazees combine for 52 percent (37.5 ppg) of Liberty's offense and 44 percent (20.1 rpg) of the Lady Flames' rebounding -- and a big reason Liberty is expected to win an 11th consecutive Big South championship, the second-longest streak in the country behind Old Dominion's 15-year dominance in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Megan is the preseason player of the year in the Big South even though she is returning this year from an ACL injury suffered on Jan. 16, just 14 games into the 2005-06 season. But according to the folks at Liberty, Megan is even better than before with an increased vertical leap and that double-double average.
"She's probably going to be the most complete player ever in the Big South," Green says. "She's very gifted with strength and power inside and the ballhandling skills to go outside. She hasn't even played a full year yet at the college level, but she is such a mismatch problem for anyone we face. She has a good motor that drives her, and the passion inside helped her rebound from the injury."
Megan was gifted enough to drop 37 points on Virginia in the Lady Flames' 75-71 upset of the Cavs last month. Her sisters and teammates are glad to have her back.
"It was tough to see her go down last year," said Moriah, who ranks third on the team in scoring (9.1 ppg) and rebounding (4.7). "It's devastating to lose a teammate to a season-ending injury, even more so when it's your sister. Her rehab was a miracle. She worked so hard to come back better than ever."
One of the potential pitfalls of triplets playing together is the fact they are all about the same size and would therefore probably all play the same position. But the Frazees have adapted to the environment; Moriah and Molly have fitted their games to work with Megan's. And at Liberty's recent trip to James Madison, the Frazees were together in the starting lineup for the first time in their college careers.
"Moriah is physically the strongest," Green said. "She plays more of a power game that may have been derived from a sibling rivalry to compete.
"Molly has drifted toward the perimeter and is our best 3-point shooter. I'm so proud of how hard she has worked. She plays a real heady game and has had to figure out ways to contribute and get on the floor."
Jim and Tammy are usually right there with them.
Jim is the former coach who tends to watch with a more critical eye, providing tips and pointers afterwards to help his daughters improve. Tammy can always be found sitting restlessly in the bleachers keeping score. She says she has to stay occupied, to stay calm and focused watching her daughters.
Big brother Zeb is another one of the triplets' biggest fans, though his basketball career has continued at Liberty, too. His powerhouse intramural squad has won back-to-back championships -- which, of course, puts Zeb in the position to go after -- what else? -- a threepeat.
The Frazee sisters have thrived in the family environment at Liberty, walking the fine line between being triplets and being individuals. All three girls are on the Dean's List, pushing each other in the classroom as well as in the gym.
"We always have our best friends on the floor and off the court, too," said Molly, who has tripled her point (9.7) and rebound (5.1) production this year, ranking second in both categories.
"People tend to lump us together when they first meet us but after a while they can't believe they thought we even looked alike. Megan is the athletic one who basketball came the easiest to. Moriah is the most talkative and people say I'm the more quiet one. We support each other and tend to agree on most things."
And so our story returns to that day in March when the Frazee triplets arrived in this world together, destined to share in their deep faith, values passed down from their parents and a love for a sport triggered by a brother's bouncing ball.
Check your calendar: A 20th birthday party for Megan, Molly and Moriah would fall right before this season's Final Four weekend. Now that would make for some real March Madness.
Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
14dBonnie D. Ford