When Strawberry Crest fell to Wiregrass Ranch in last season’s Class 7A region quarterfinal, five Chargers hung up their black and red jerseys for good. It was in those jerseys that five seniors, including current Hillsborough County Community College guard Maiya Trigg, helped take Strawberry Crest from a middling girls basketball program to back-to-back district champions.
Not wanting to see the team she’s coached since the beginning go backward, LaTosha Lewis sat down with Trigg’s younger twin sisters, Ayanna and Briana Matthews, before the most recent campaign began.
Ayanna and Briana, 16, had always done everything together. Now, Lewis was giving them one more task to complete, side by side.
“I said, ‘Listen, this is your team. You have to step up, and you have to lead us,’ ” Lewis recalled. ” ‘Put us on your shoulders, and carry us all the way to the state championship.’ “
So far, the twins have taken that command and run away with it.
Led by Ayanna, who is averaging 15.9 points per game, and Briana (13.9), Strawberry Crest (14-0) is the only remaining undefeated girls basketball team in Hillsborough County. Just last weekend, the Chargers faced — and dominated — their toughest competition yet, winning the Indian Rocks Christian Winter Slam Tournament with a 58-50 victory against Palm Harbor University.
If not for Briana’s long braids, it would be difficult to tell the identical twins apart. Even on the basketball court — a place they’ve spent much of their time since taking up the sport as 10-year-olds — they’re similar, both playing power forward and shooting guard.
“She stole my moves,” Ayanna quipped, playfully glaring at her sister.
“I perfected them,” Briana quickly responded.
Their mother, Tauesia Matthews, said they’ve been in synch their entire lives, so much so that in elementary school, the girls would switch places and go to each other’s classes.
“The difference between them, besides their hair now, is Briana has a mole on her face,” Matthews said. “Briana decided to cover up her mole with a brown marker. Ayana put a mole on her face with a black marker, and the teacher didn’t even notice.”
The 5-foot-10 juniors didn’t start playing organized basketball until about six years ago, participating mostly in dance and cheerleading before that. But as soon as they started playing, the twins said, they felt right at home on the court. Ayanna and Briana were on the varsity team as freshmen in 2013, the year the Chargers won their first district title, and have been getting interest from colleges ever since, Lewis said.
Ayanna said that growing up the pair always benefited from having someone with whom to shoot hoops. When they first got to Strawberry Crest, that togetherness was almost too much for Lewis.
“I used to say, ‘I can’t keep y’all on the court together,’ because it was just a whirlwind … they want to play, pass it back and forth,” Lewis said. “But now, I have to have them on the court together. I love it. Because they play off each other. Energy, intensity … When one’s up, the other one’s up.”
Wearing Nos. 12 and 21 — an idea they took from former USF women’s basketball twins Andrea and Andrell Smith — Ayanna and Briana are in synch in the way they talk, walk and even dance, something they often do to take the edge off. Fortunately for them, Briana said, that carries over onto the basketball court.
“Certain plays, I don’t have to talk to her or even look at her, I just know she’s going to move. And I just pass it,” she said. “Then it’s like, you’re playing with your best friend, so you enjoy it more.”
But while they’re sharing the leaderships duties, Ayanna and Briana have each had their separate nights to shine.
Ayanna scored a career-high 27 points against district rival Plant City on Dec. 4, sinking nearly 70 percent of her shots. On Saturday, Briana had a career night of her own, putting up 28 in a win against Indian Rocks Christian, a performance that eventually helped earn her all-tournament honors.
“We have big shoes to fill being that we lost five seniors. So we were like, ‘Who’s going to be the post player?’ We were questioning it,” Ayanna said. “Then we were like, ‘Well, we’ll just go out there and do it.’ “
And just as they have with everything else in life, Ayanna and Briana have done it together.