Catholic Sentinel photo by Ken Niezgoda
Sophomore Rose Alvarez scans for teammates as she brings the ball upcourt against Lakeview.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ken Niezgoda
Sophomore Rose Alvarez scans for teammates as she brings the ball upcourt against Lakeview.
MEDFORD — St. Mary's, Medford girls' basketball team is a study in contrast.

The Crusaders are young but play like veterans. With only one senior on the squad, the team has reeled off two win streaks of nine or more games en route to a number three 3A ranking in the state this season. They open state playoffs Feb 23.

Another contrast: In a game where height matters, the two biggest Crusaders on the floor are often the two smallest. A large part of the Crusaders' success this season is the play of sisters Emily and Rose Alvarez, 5-3 and 5-2 respectively. The two form the back court of a deep and talented team.

Emily and Rose started playing organized basketball together when Rose was in third grade. Seven years later, their consistency has become the model for the entire team.

"We've improved a lot since last year. We are more of a team. We communicate better.    We make smart decisions," said Emily, a junior, about the growth of the Crusaders this year. The stimulus for that growth has been the sisters, one or both of whom are almost always on the floor.

"Playing with my sister is such an honor. I really love playing with her. We know where we are on the floor. We don't have to look for each other," said Emily.

Crusaders first year coach Richard Vasey sees their influence on the squad.

"They've played together so much that they know where each other is out on the floor," said Vasey. "It's especially fun to watch them on the fast break."

Last season was the first in five years that the Crusaders did not make the state playoffs. This season the squad is young: Alex DeBoer is the team's only active senior. With a first-year head coach, the team was searching for an identity. The sisters have helped the Crusaders find it through selfless play.

"Early in the season we were just trying to figure out who we are. It was a roller coaster," said the coach. "It really seems like we're getting into a rhythm right now. We're playing 10 deep, all the kids contribute."

The dip in the rollercoaster came in December, when the team went 3-2 and only outscored opponents an average of three points per game. Before and since, though, the team is undefeated and dominating the opposition by more than 16 points per game.

"Emily carries our scoring load. We have kids that really step up when kids key on her," said Vasey, noting in particular the play of junior post Sarah Ramsay and junior wing Lillian Martin. Of course Rose takes the pressure off Emily as well.

"When we're out there playing we can read each other's mind and eyes," said Rose about her sister. "Ever since we were young, she was always the point guard and I was always in the corner ready to shoot."

It is that sense of team play that has led the Crusaders to a 22-2 record and sights set on the state tournament Feb. 28 in Coos Bay. St. Mary's girls have not lost to a 3A opponent all season. Emily and Rose have played with many of their teammates for years, through middle school and summer league play. Years of play together are paying off this season.

"Our team has bonded a lot this year, so we know each other's weaknesses and strengths," said Rose. "We take advantage of that every game."