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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL

Cypress' girls' basketball team has them seeing double with twins

Two sets of identical siblings keep opponents and referees guessing; the differences are in the details, such as each girl's specific talents on the court.

February 11, 2009|James Wagner

There are times when the confusion is painfully embarrassing. Such as being honored at a ceremony for your academic achievements, only to learn later it was meant for your twin sister.

But there are times it helps. Such as when a defender can't remember which twin is the shooter and which likes to drive to the basket.

For the Cypress High girls' basketball team, confusion is part of any day on the court.

Its starting forwards, Heather and Janell Conley, are identical twins. So are two of its starting guards, Stephanie and Lynzie Numata. And, much to Cypress' delight, opponents have twice as much trouble trying to figure out who's who. At times, referees are left rubbing their eyes, thinking they're seeing double.

Well, they are.

The perks are amusing. Fouls are called on the wrong sister. Opposing coaches scout the wrong player.

Early in their careers, all four girls learned that things such as names, faces and fouls were interchangeable. A blown whistle on one twin often is meant for the other.

"Whichever one is walking away from the referees will get the foul," Cypress Coach Susan Fried said.

During a recent game against Valencia High, the referees had to do a double take. "We, at first, thought it was one girl," referee Alex Mendez said of each set of twins. "Then we realized it was two people." No missed fouls that night.

In basketball, there's a tall tale in which a player in foul trouble switches jerseys with her twin to keep playing. Though the Numatas and Conleys have yet to try the stunt themselves, having a look-alike has often saved them from foul trouble.

"It's to their benefit usually," said Janice Numata, the twins' mother.

The confusion is understandable. Aside from their nearly mirror physical appearances, the Conleys have similar-length light brown hair, wear the same style orange-and-white game shoes and black knee pads. The same goes for the Numatas, who sport black-and-white game shoes, white tube socks and black hair.

The differences are in the details. A sharp eye would notice that one in each pair of twins is right-handed, Janell and Lynzie. And that 5-foot-9 Janell and 4-foot-11 Stephanie are an inch taller than their respective twin. Or that Janell, who wears No. 34, loves the eight-foot jump shot. Or that Stephanie, who has longer hair than her sister, is the team's best ballhandler.

But catch them on a day off the court and without their uniforms, and it's a tough proposal for anyone. Even their parents.

Janet Conley has reveled in watching two of her daughters succeed together on the court with the Numata twins. But ask her to point out Stephanie, No. 13, from Lynzie, No. 22, even a mother of twins admits she can't. "You would think I could," she said.

Then there's the muddled scouting. Opponents will occasionally play the girls differently than they should. Lay off, Lynzie is going to drive, they'll say. "I'll hear the coach yelling from the side and I'll be laughing to myself," she said. Then she makes a three-pointer.

Perhaps the biggest upside to playing with another set of twins is the teamwork. Twins think alike, even two sets of them.

And it's obvious. Each twin finishes each other's sentences. They frequently laugh at the same time. During a recent home game against Anaheim Loara, Cypress' second-quarter lead melted away while the starters took a break on the bench. But once back in the game, their experience and comfort emerged. Effortless screens. Crisp passes. And eventually the victory, by 10 points. The team is 13-12 after Tuesday's game.

On the court, all four know exactly where to be. "You can sense it," said Heather, No. 5.

But there are some downsides. People often flip their names, including once in sixth grade when Heather got a teacher's recognition award intended for Janell. Sometimes after hitting a shot, they'll hear the crowd cheer for the wrong sister. Fried, who teaches the Numatas in anatomy class, will occasionally ask for the wrong twin to be substituted.

Even so, "it's really interesting coaching two sets," Fried said, "because you do see the differences."

The Conleys are more twin than sister. They communicate constantly on and off the court. Their scoring average is nearly the same, seven points a game. Rebounding nearly the same, six a game. Share the same group of friends. Take similar classes.

The Numatas are more sister than twin. At lunch, they sit at opposite ends of the table. Stephanie is the slashing point guard and scorer who entered Tuesday's game averaging a team-leading 9.5 points. Lynzie is the defender and three-point shooter, averaging 4.7 points. "These two," their coach said, "if they chose to be twins, wouldn't."

The constant comparisons and similar identities almost kept the four from playing together this year, their second together. Before this season, her senior year at Cypress, Lynzie transferred to a private school in Anaheim.

She said she needed a change. "I kind of wanted to get away from Stephanie," Lynzie said, "Do my own thing and see how I was on my own. But then I realized that things . . ."

Then Stephanie interrupted: "You need me."

" . . . Weren't so bad," continued Lynzie, who returned to Cypress after a week of class at Fairmont Preparatory Academy.

"I didn't need her," she added, laughing.

It's a joke among sisters. But it's one that will probably come true next fall. They plan to attend different colleges. And with that, the confusion will stop for one set of twins.

But not the other.

Janell is mum on whether she'll go to college with her sister in a year. Asked whether she wants to, she smiles and deflects.

"At home she wants to, but in public she doesn't admit it," said Heather, a junior.

It might be a good thing they have one more year to sort out the confusion.

--

james.wagner@latimes.com

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