Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
From the time they wake up until the time they fall asleep, Emily and Rose Alvarez are never too far from each other.
The St. Mary's basketball players share just about everything: a room at their Talent home, a seat on bus rides, their iPods on long drives, tables to eat at, daily chores, even an interest in charitable causes.
When the Crusaders' team photograph was taken, the two stood just inches apart, smiling.
They seem to always be happy.
Emily, 17, and Rose, 15, may be at their best — and their happiest — when they step foot on the hardwood together. There, they have helped guide St. Mary's to a 23-2 record and a first-round Class 3A state playoff home game against Portland Adventist Academy on Saturday.
Emily, a junior, leads the Crusaders in scoring (14.9 points a game), assists (1.8) and steals (1.7). Rose, a sophomore, has averaged 7.8 points after injuring an ankle in the squad's first game of the year and missing 12 games. Their contributions come underneath and around the outstretched arms of trees: Rose is just 5-foot-2 and Emily 5-3.
"We are on our tippy-toes a lot," Rose says.
Rose's absence was strange for Emily, who has played on teams with her younger sister since she was in the fifth grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School. Emily originally got interested in hoops after seeing her older sister Jasmine play, and Rose got interested when she watched Emily. Those three began a tradition in the family. Their father Jesus and mother Sandra had neither the time nor resources to play basketball.
Jesus, who is from Aguascalientes, Mexico, and Sandra, who is from El Salvador, stopped going to school early in life to help support their families. They came to America as children and later met in Los Angeles while Sandra worked at a child care center and Jesus in construction.
"So many kids don't get a lot of support from their parents," says Emily. "My parents are always on us to participate and play sports and do well in school. They say, 'You have to do this, you need to take this opportunity.' It is a blessing."
The Alvarez parents — who preferred the beauty of Oregon over the bustle of L.A. — have five active, interesting and interested children. Along with Emily, Rose and Jasmine (who is in college), the Spanish- and English-speaking bunch is rounded out with 11-year-old Ibixica and brother Glenn, a senior on the St. Mary's boys team.
Between the five children, just about every sport has been explored. Sandra films many of their games and then sends DVD copies around the globe to relatives.
Right now, the camera is focused on Emily and Rose.
Emily starts at point guard and Rose plays the wing. The two can give opponents headaches with their speed and shooting prowess, especially from deep. Rose's favorite shot is the corner 3, while Emily — who owns a team-best 60 3-point makes — likes the spots between the top and corners of the arc.
"Just having (Emily's) athleticism and competitive fire certainly helps us," St. Mary's first-year head coach Richard Vasey says. "And when Rose gets on the floor she makes everyone around her better."
Seeing the two girls apart isn't likely.
"I am always around her," Emily says of Rose. "We always sit together on the bench and when we travel. We warm up together. Everybody thinks we are twins and we pretty much feel like we are."
Rose injured her right ankle in the third quarter of the Crusaders' first game of the year on Nov. 29. The setback was serious enough to require crutches and she did not return to action until Jan. 4.
"It was weird," Emily says of Rose's absence. "I would look for her on the court when she was injured. Once we started playing again we connected really well. We know where we are on the court all the time. Being with her, I have a lot of confidence if I have a bad game I know she will step it up."
Returning from the injury took some time, Rose says, but she eventually regained her mojo. Against Lakeview, she confidently canned three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The smile was back, but it was never gone for long.
"She looks like she always has a smile," Vasey says.
Adds Rose: "I thought to myself, 'I need to step up and get rid of the fear of getting hurt again. So I stepped up and acted like I never hurt the ankle."
When they aren't playing sports, Emily and Rose say they especially enjoy donating their time at places like Kids Unlimited. It's fun, they agreed — especially when they are with each other.
"We are never fighting or arguing," Rose says. "We're laughing and joking."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org