Sisterly connections bring girls basketball team together on court

Heading+into+postseason%3A+Girls%E2%80%99+basketball+junior+Makenzie+Skrabal+practices+and+competes+in+order+to+prepare+for+postseason+competition+which+begins+next+month.+Photo+by+Haley+Hollis+

Heading into postseason: Girls’ basketball junior Makenzie Skrabal practices and competes in order to prepare for postseason competition which begins next month. Photo by Haley Hollis

Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj

Heading into postseason: Girls’ basketball junior Makenzie Skrabal practices and competes in order to prepare for postseason competition which begins next month. Photo by Haley Hollis
Becoming a family is always important to the girls’ basketball team, but this year the players came with the families already intact.

In fact, the roster has three pairs of sisters. Senior Lindsey and freshman Sophie Cunningham, sophomore Bri and freshman Cierra Porter and sophomore twins Chayla and Kayla Cheadle all play together.
“We always try to emphasize the importance of the team feeling like a family,” Lindsey said. “Actually having blood related sisters, not just one pair but a few, definitely helps that out.”
Because the sisters have played together for so long, over a decade for the Cunninghams, they know one another’s weaknesses, even beyond the sport. This allows them to joke about experiences that might make relations between players on other teams tense.
One instance that still shapes their court play happened years ago, around sixth grade. Chayla passed a ball to her sister that ended up hitting Kayla directly in the face.
“I was trying to get open to get the ball, but as soon as she passed it to me, the girl tripped me,” Kayla said. “The ball hit me in the face, and I had braces, too. We joke about that all the time, because she’s like, ‘Remember the time I hit you in the face?’”
The whole team can bond from memories like this one, but Lindsey said the Bruins also benefit from competition among the three pairs of sisters on the varsity lineup. Lindsey’s earliest memory of playing with Sophie was when they were five and three years old. Sophie remembers the two challenging one another even then, and Lindsey said their friendly rivalry has only grown since then; now their practices are exceptionally competitive.
“We push each other probably more than we need to,” Lindsey said. “But we’re making each other better in the process.”
But Chayla said competition among the sisters on the team is only to improve the team overall. Even if the sisters compete by attempting to out-score or out-rebound one another in practice, they never try to outshine anyone because this would be against the point of only trying to improve the team.
“We know the point we have to get to,” Chayla said. “We don’t have to outdo each other.”
Coach Jill Nagel stressed that the competition among family members has been only positive for the team. Sibling rivalries never plague practices, and strong bonds between sisters blend in with the team’s overall unity, she said. The competition doesn’t just make the sisters better. It also makes the team better.
“You’ve got six very talented players that we’re talking about,” Nagel said. “When [the other players] see those six going hard, it makes them go hard. They have to.”
Junior Makenzie Skrabal, who called the competition among the sisters “strong,” agreed that the team is motivated by the beneficial sibling rivalries.
“During practice you would see the intensity that they’re going at,” Skrabal said, “and you’d want to match that.”
Although all three pairs of sisters have pushed each other growing up, vying on the school’s varsity team rather than just out on the driveway is a first-time experience for the Porters and Cunninghams. The Porters said even though playing basketball with each other has become the norm, competing for their school is a better experience.
“I feel like it actually matters,” Cierra said.
“It’s more fun, too, because you’re playing with your sister. We’re together every day,” Bri added. “During season, we … have either practice or a game every day, and the fact that we’re spending that much time together outside of home makes playing for school different than anything else.”
With a larger age difference, Sophie and Lindsey also view this year as a unique opportunity to represent their school together.
“Being the older sister, your little sister’s not supposed to be able to compete with you or whatever, but she’s so talented,” Lindsey said. “We’ve looked forward to this — to be able to play together. Since we were little, Sophie’s just been tagging along. … You can’t really shake her.”
Although this is her only year playing for RBHS with her younger sister, Lindsey also anticipates competing together at the Division I college level. Both sisters plan on playing Missouri basketball.
This eagerness to continue their basketball careers together is not shared by the Cheadles. Playing the same sport has helped their personal relationship by giving them a common bond, Kayla said, but the two expect high school to be the end of their time spent as teammates.
“In college … we’re trying to separate,” Kayla said, “to get our own identity since we’re already twins.”
Kayla has been bonding with her sister though basketball since she started playing in second grade. By the time they graduate, the Cheadle sisters will have spent more time playing the sport together than not. But their planned separation stems from their personal lives too.
“I need to learn to be independent,” Chayla said. “I depend on her too much.”
Even with differing future plans in mind, all six of the players have a common aim for the year.
“I know we’re talented and can go as far as we want to,” Lindsey said, looking over at her sister. “State championships.”
“All the way, baby,” Sophie adds.
By Nomin Jagdagdorj