West Springfield's Karen and Sandy Rawdon posed a problem for first-year basketball Coach Dan Bush earlier this season.
He didn't have a problem picking them out when they were in uniform -- they are six-footers with bright red hair and Sandy wears No. 24, Karen No. 34. In street clothes, however, separating them takes a discerning eye. They are identical twins.
But Bush doesn't mind the problem as long as the sisters continue to make their basketball opposition see double.
The Rawdons and 6-1 Cathy Park make West Springfield one of the tallest teams in Virginia AAA girls basketball. The No. 6-ranked Spartans are 8-2 and contenders for Northern District and Northern Region honors, having lost only to No. 5 Woodbridge and No. 11 W.T. Woodson.
And Bush has uncovered clues as to who's who off the court.
"Lately, Karen has had some soreness in her wrist and has had it taped," said Bush. "Sandy is a bit taller (6-1 to Karen's 6-0). I know one of them has pierced ears, but I really couldn't tell you which one."
Bush thinks his players know Karen from Sandy, but the sisters aren't so certain. "Sure, they may think they know which one is which, but they still call us by the other's name," said Karen. Said Sandy, "We just don't let it bother us too much."
As for their personalities, "I guess you could say we're both fairly quiet," said Karen. "We're just not outspoken." Added Sandy: "When we're with our teammates or with certain groups of people, we're both very sociable."
They learned basketball together, mainly from 20-year-old brother Brian, who played as a Spartan freshman, and father Charles, who coached their Springfield Youth Club team during seventh and eighth grades.
But their play varies, reflecting individual preferences and strengths. Sandy's primary concerns are offensive, Karen's defensive. When the Spartans are on the run (Bush believes in transition basketball), Karen is more passive, content to dribble momentarily, then dish off to her sister or Park. Sandy is more likely to shoot. The statistics agree: Sandy averages 10.1 points per game, Karen 6.4.
Karen shifts constantly when the other team has the ball, attentively reacting to the opponent's offensive movement. She was particularly effective against Madison (her best game, she felt, although she topped that with 12 points and 11 rebounds against Gar-Field). The Spartans beat Madison, 50-24.
"I really enjoy playing one-on-one, trying to keep my opponent from doing her best. Sandy is more aggressive bringing the ball to the basket. I stay outside," said Karen. Said Sandy, "She likes to take that baseline jumper. She's a better rebounder. I like to rebound but I don't always get there. I love the fast pace."
Karen averages seven rebounds a game, Sandy five.
"Sandy likes to get down into the paint," said Bush. "She can get the offensive boards when she's down there. She had eight against Woodbridge (in a 61-56 loss) alone."
In her best game, against Hayfield, Sandy scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Karen has been West Springfield's sixth player ("She asked to do that," said Bush), winning Bush's top substitute award after several games. Her debut as a starter came Dec. 29 against Woodbridge. "They broke our press and we didn't shoot as well," said Karen.
"Having three tall players as we do poses a real problem for other teams," said Bush. "When Karen subs, I have a fresh player as tall and strong as the one being replaced.
"But with all three six-footers, they work well. Each has her own specific ability. Sandy and Karen are good together. They look for each other. I guess it's like looking into a mirror."
The twins also credit their teammates for their success on the court.
"With nine seniors, we've played together a long time and had a chance to work on our problems," said Karen. "We've been working on defense this year." Said Sandy: "When you're having a good game, you hear a lot of compliments from your teammates. That makes you want to play better and keep up the pace. And the competition in our district is tough."
The Spartans are under pressure Fridays this month, facing Robinson, Woodson, and T.C. Williams, all ranked among the area's top 20. But West Springfield has confidence with the Rawdons.
"Karen and Sandy play within themselves," said Bush. "They don't panic, so we are able to outlast other teams.
"They are tall and sturdy girls, but possess a lot of agility for their size. I think the other girls feel very confident passing to them. They put the ball on the floor and move. Some big players put it down and bounce it off their foot. That is a relief."
West Springfield hopes to fulfill a season goal: a trip to the state tournament.
"This is our year," said Karen. "We have the ability to work very hard together. In the backcourt, there's quickness and ballhandling. And having three six-footers doesn't hurt. It is the best team we've had and we plan to go all the way."