Cheadle twins stay within arm's reach
Rules are rules, twins Chayla and Kayla Cheadle were told when they arrived for their first day of kindergarten 14 years ago. But some -- like the one in their Kansas City district that forced siblings to be put in separate classrooms -- were tougher to swallow than others.
"I was worried about how they would react to not being in the same room," said their mother, Cheryl Cheadle. "After the first day, I asked their teachers how it went, and they said that when it came time for recess, they found each other and just hugged."
Turns out, the Cheadle twins still are not ready to let go.
Not totally, anyway.
The two, who are seniors at No. 16 Rock Bridge (Columbia, Mo.), have signed athletic scholarships to compete at the University of Kansas. Kayla, who is older than her sister by 10 minutes, will play volleyball. And Chayla, two inches shorter than the 6-foot-1 Kayla, will play basketball.
When making her college choice, Chayla's final two schools were Alabama and Kansas. Kayla's finalists were Missouri and Kansas.
They decided on Kansas last June during Chayla's recruiting trip to Alabama. The 11-hour road trip proved to be longer than Chayla had imagined, and the twins realized they wanted to be closer to their parents -- and to each other.
"I had kind of made up my mind on Kansas before my sister took her trip to Alabama," Kayla said. "When her trip was over, we talked, and I told her what I was planning on doing, and it all just happened that we both wanted Kansas."
Chayla and Kayla are both standouts on the Rock Bridge basketball team, having led the Bruins to two straight state titles.
This year's playoff run figures to be the last time they play together.
"It's going to be a big change," said Chayla, who noted that the twins will also live in different dorm rooms at Kansas. "But we were apart last summer [for AAU ball], and it was still fun."
Added Kayla: "Chayla didn't play volleyball with me our junior year, and that made me realize that it won't be as weird as we might think. We'll still see each other around. We still have that bond."
That bond is nothing new at Rock Bridge. Two years ago, when the Bruins won the state title that started their current streak, they had three sets of sisters and a pair of cousins.
In addition to the Cheadles, Rock Bridge currently has the Porter sisters -- 6-2 senior wing Abrianna and 6-4 junior forward Cierra. Both are Missouri recruits. The Bruins also have 6-1 junior guard Sophie Cunningham, another Missouri recruit. Her sister, Lindsey, is a redshirt freshman on the Missouri basketball team.
Sophie Cunningham, who has played with the twins since fifth grade, said she is thrilled they are headed to the same campus.
"We always going joke about how they are going to Kansas -- our big rivals," Cunningham said. "But I'm excited that they will be sticking together."
Cunningham said Chayla is the "loud and crazy" twin while Kayla "is more reserved."
But the twins' parents said it's Chayla who relies on Kayla more than the other way around.
"Even as little kids," Cheryl said, "when Chayla was singing her ABCs, when she would get stuck, she would look to Kayla."
They don't get stuck often. They play on a loaded Rock Bridge team that has six Division I athletes, including 6-1 senior forward Audrey Holt, a Missouri State recruit.
The Bruins (14-2) have won 14 games in a row and feature a balanced attack. Cunningham leads the team with a 19.0 scoring average. Chayla contributes eight points, four rebounds and some big-time moments. In the state final as a sophomore, Chayla scored a game-high 19 points in a 52-41 win over Blue Springs (Mo.).
Kayla, meanwhile, has started roughly half of Rock Bridge's games this season and is especially valuable as a point guard with long arms and elite athleticism.
"She's our best 3-point shooter this season at 44 percent," Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said of Kayla. "We put her at the top of our 1-3-1, three-quarter-court zone. Teams are not used to playing against a point guard that tall.
"On offense, she can see over people and has the skill to make a pinpoint pass on the run to another player on the run. She does that flawlessly."
Stellar in basketball, but perhaps made for volleyball.
"She's long and slender, quick on her feet and jumps fairly well," said dad Kevin Cheadle, who was a 6-7 forward in his days as an NAIA college basketball player. "If she were to play college basketball, she would need to muscle up a bit."
Chayla, who plays shooting guard and small forward, is plenty physical. Nagel considers her a "lockdown defender" and often assigns her to cover opponents' best players.
"She's extremely quick with great hands and feet," Nagel said. "She can anticipate plays and is very strong for her size. She has done strength training for the past three years and is a very good rebounder."
Nagel, who is in her ninth season as the coach, said one of the turning points in her career came during the twins' freshman season. Rock Bridge was upset by Jefferson City in the district playoffs that season, and that early end to their year was jarring.
"We were ahead at halftime," Nagel said. "But it was like we took an ice bath -- we couldn't hit a thing in the second half."
The Bruins reevaluated their entire program after that and have not lost an elimination game since.
"I constantly think back to that [Jefferson City] game," Chayla said, "because I want to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Indeed, Rock Bridge fans are hoping that the Cheadles can end their senior season the same way they started kindergarten.
With a joyful hug.