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Rapinoes hope to stay on the field all season

With 3 knee injuries between them, twins gear up for senior year
by: , Left: Megan Rapinoe Right: Rachael Rapinoe

They are twin sisters, roommates, friends and great soccer players who are coming back from left knee injuries, hoping to be integral parts of the 2008 Portland Pilots.

But the knees of Megan and Rachael Rapinoe, 22, are different.

'Mine go in, hers go out,' Rachael says. 'I have wide hips, and she doesn't have hips at all. She's had knee problems, and I haven't had a knee injury (before last season) - it was dumb luck.'

Both went to the sideline about the same time, and the Pilots played almost all of 2007 without a Rapinoe. On Sept. 9 against Purdue, Rachael went to get a ball, took a step, cut back, and 'it just tore, a weird thing,' she says. 'The knee kept going, and got stuck in the grass' - torn anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus, and partially torn medial collateral ligament.

Either in the Purdue game or the game before - the only two she played - or sometime in training, Megan's surgically repaired left knee went out again. It didn't feel right, she says, and she remembers making a tackle in practice and feeling a lot of pain when her foot got stuck in grass.

She had torn the ACL and meniscus in the knee, just one year after the same knee injury cut short her 2006 season at 11 games.

Bam-bam, the Rapinoes were gone. Talk about a double-whammy. The Pilots missed them, although they made it to the NCAA quarterfinals before losing 3-2 in overtime at No. 1-ranked UCLA.

Both Rapinoes are scheduled to be ready for this season. Megan has been going through spring drills. Rachael, slowed by a bruise on the left tibia, recently ran two laps around the practice field for the first time.

So lately, it's been Megan retrieving the ice bags for Rachael.

'As sad as it was to have Megan have another ACL,' Rachael says, 'it was good to go through it with somebody else.'

Megan says: 'Who knows better than someone who has gone through the exact same thing?'

As a top NCAA freshman in 2005, Megan helped the Pilots win the national title. She says she went through aggressive rehabilitation to return last season, and it might have backfired.

'I pushed it, because I wanted to get back as soon as possible,' she says. 'Maybe I could have been stronger when I came back playing. It had been 11 months. I had no problems.

'Patience is the key with this injury. Not getting frustrated with yourself. It makes me a good athlete because I do push myself. I live on the edge in my sport. But going through an injury, that kind of mentality is your worst enemy.'

Megan has played in 13 games the past two seasons, and she has 25 goals and 15 assists in 38 career matches. She had surgery Sept. 25.

'It's much less difficult the second time around,' she says. 'I knew what was in store. The hardest thing was emotionally, but I knew what to expect in certain stages.'

Rachael was off to a hot start last year, with four goals in four games. She had surgery Oct. 16.

Her left quadriceps is still weak, and that puts pressure on her kneecap.

'It's definitely a mental and emotional recovery,' she says. 'It's hard, definitely hard, to watch the team running and practicing and I'm not able to do it.'

Rachael, a 5-4 forward, and Megan, a 5-7 attacking midfielder, have played in few games together at Portland. It would mean the world to them to play together, healthy, in their senior seasons.

Rachael can score, and Megan can score and brings fiery intensity. For the '08 Pilots, it's fairly imperative that Megan stay healthy, although UP still has loads of talent. Coach Garrett Smith says Megan should not forget about the twice-injured knee but also should not hold back on the field.

'This team means everything to me,' Megan says. 'Anything less than a national championship would be a failure, or unsatisfying.'

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Pilot Soccer

The Portland Pilots' women's soccer team plays an exhibition game against the U.S. U-23 team at 7 tonight at Merlo Field.

• UP midfielder Sophie Schmidt will miss preseason training since the Canadian national team on which she plays has made the Olympics.

• It's possible that the Pilots might not have midfielder Keelin Winters, midfielder Elli Reed and/or forward Michelle Enyeart for the NCAA playoffs. Each is vying to be on the U-20 national team, which would take them away from the Pilots in November and December. Tryouts in July will determine whether they make the team.

But three of Portland's five incoming freshmen have various national team experience: defender Michelle Olivier, Roswell, Ga.; forward Danielle Foxhoven, Littleton, Colo.; and midfielder Charney Burk, North Tustin, Calif.

- Jason Vondersmith