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Emily Westerberg, Aubree Johnson remain close as sisters

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 20, 2018

By Dave Trimmer For The Spokesman-Review

There is every reason to be jealous of Emily Westerberg and Aubree Johnson.

It’s not the two state basketball championships and countless accolades both won, Westerberg at Central Valley and Johnson at Post Falls.

It’s not their accomplishments for the Arizona State basketball team and the unprecedented heights the Sun Devils reached in their playing days.

It’s not even their precious families, as both married and now each have three children.

What is truly remarkable is that Emily Westerberg Love and Aubree Johnson Chestnut can live thousands of miles apart and still talk like they are next door neighbors – or twin sisters sharing a bedroom.

“She calls me every Friday (and) we’re constantly texting,” Love said, “She’s as much of a sister as she’s always been.”

Chestnut said, “With her, friendship is easy. We talk frequently and try to see each other a few times a year. She is easily someone I could go long periods of time without talking to and pick up right where we left off.”

Their bond is definitely one everyone should wish for in their life.

The here and now

Love and her husband Grayling, an offensive lineman at Arizona State, now live in Atlanta, where he is a senior manager for a company called Eaton.

She says she uses her elementary education degree to track Lucia, 8, Trey, 7 and Elias, 4 1/2. And they have opened their hearts and their house as foster parents.

When Love first came home after college she worked for a church and then her dad. But Grayling got an opportunity in Seattle and then Atlanta. Despite missing her family, as luck would have it her sister Ashley and family live just north of Atlanta.

“So far we have absolutely adored the south,” Love said. “It is the most charming place, all the stories they say about it are true, and more.”

Chestnut, who graduated with a kinesiology degree, started as a basketball coach at North Idaho College and then Seattle Pacific before returning to school to become a physicians assistant.

She married Cameron Chestnut and they lived in Los Angeles while he did his residency for dermatologic and facial reconstructive surgery. They moved to Coeur d’Alene just after the Loves moved to Seattle.

Chestnut works at her husband’s office one day a week. Most of her time is focused on Torin, 4, Tatum, 2 ½ and Callum, 9 months. And she also has the good fortune of having an older sister nearby – Desiree works full-time for her brother-in-law.

The beginning

Love and Chestnut gained notoriety in high school.

First it was Chestnut, making varsity in ninth grade. She was a star the next year when Post Falls placed fourth at state and was a two-time state player of the year as the Trojans won back-to-back titles.

Chestnut, who also played volleyball, swam and golfed, scored 1,334 career points.

Across the state line, Love scored 1,460 points in three high school seasons.

Central Valley won state titles her first two years and in her three years the Bears went 83-4, the last loss coming in the state title game that kept them from a three-peat.

And like her best friend across the border, Love was a two-time state player of the year.

You don’t get that good without putting in the effort and both participated in the Spokane Stars skills camps early and then played on the summer travel team. And became best friends. They were part of national championship BCI teams in 2000 and 2001.

Distance for Love and time for Chestnut make it difficult to do more than admire what their schools are doing now.

Post Falls just won state after placing third last year, led by four-time league MVP Melody Kempton, who is headed to Gonzaga. Kempton is the Trojans’ all-time leading scoring, the Johnson name sits in third.

Central Valley is heavily favored to win state. It would be its second in three years with a fourth-place finish in-between. Led by the Stanford-bound Hull twins, Lacie and Lexie, the Bears are 77-1 in the three years after not making state when they were freshmen. Lexie is poised to pass Madison Hovren (who plays at Army) as the Bears’ all-time scoring leader but the Westerberg name remains third.

“Those were such fun times for Emily and I and all my other teammates,” Chestnut said. “I think it is exciting that both schools are doing so well and they get to experience what that was like. It’s different than any other experiences you’re going to have down the road.”

Fun in the sun

By their senior year both women had put their name in the record books and Arizona State had done things that no other Sun Devil team had accomplished.

Love was an All-Pac-10 freshman selection and ASU’s first three-time All-Pac-12 honoree as well as an honorable mention All-American.

“It was the time of my life,” said Love, who was inducted into the ASU Hall of Fame last fall. “Getting to room with my best friend and sister every single year, I didn’t think we could get closer. Our bond as sisters grew immensely in college.”

Chestnut was All-Pac-10 as a senior.

“In college you spend every waking hour together, you live together,” Chestnut said. “You go through a maturing process and life events in college that are different than in high school so that bond can be a little stronger in college.”

They played in three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, another first for ASU. Their senior year they became the first Sun Devils team to reach the Elite Eight and set records for wins (31) and conference wins (16). ASU also had it’s highest in-season and final poll ranking and highest seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Love graduated No. 6 on the scoring list (1,340 points) and was still eighth coming into this season and was No. 9 in rebounding (582). She remains as one of the school’s best free-throw shooters.

Chestnut was sixth in rebounding (608) and fourth in blocked shots (69) and remains ninth and eighth, respectively.

Those were great years.

“Our success, we got to travel the country, we grew as young women, I met my husband,” Love said. “I have the best friends in the world. … It was truly a dream in every single way.”

Except for the nightmare.

Tragedy strikes

Arizona State was playing in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving in 2006 and the families attended.

One morning Chestnut’s younger brother Jordan, 15, didn’t wake up, dying of a heart attack because of an enlarged heart.

As fate would have it, after the “sisters” missed two games for the funeral, the next Sun Devils game was at Gonzaga. It was one of those homecoming games teams schedule for seniors. Facing three former Stars teammates, Chestnut changed her jersey number to Jordan’s No. 5. Love had a double-double and ASU won 81-66.

What role all that emotion had in the Sun Devils’ best season is hard to gauge.

After the season, Love was drafted by the WNBA and Chestnut was offered a free-agent tryout. They decided to pass on the professional opportunity and travel overseas with the Sun Devils, but another tragedy intervened.

Cyndie and Tom Johnson went to Arizona for graduation and took a motorcycle trip into Mexico. They were involved in an accident. Tom was killed and Cyndie severely injured.

“Obviously for me losing my dad and my brother within a six-month period was terrible,” Chestnut said. “Having Emily there, we were exactly where we were supposed to be. Emily was my rock, especially on my team, because we were in the middle of the basketball season when my brother passed away. My other teammates and my coaches at ASU were incredible.”

Chestnut, the quieter one, choked up, as did Love, who wears her emotions on her sleeve.

“That was one of the most life-altering experiences I’ve had as her sister. It wasn’t my biological dad or biological brother we lost but it felt very much like my brother and my dad,” Love said. “I still miss them. … But I can also say it has grown my faith in ways I didn’t expect or imagine.”

Moving on

Busy would seem to be an understatement to describe the lives of Love and Chestnut. Raising a family doesn’t leave a lot of spare time to look back and basketball is certainly out of the picture at the moment.

But it was basketball that brought them together and was there when they had their biggest challenge, which they still face today.

“My mom and my sister and I have all had a hard time moving forward,” Chestnut said. “We have hope we’ll see them again. We’ve been able to move on with our life … enjoy our lives while still holding my dad and my brother close to our hearts but not wallowing in the fact we have lost them.

“I think we cherish our relationships a little bit more because of that and live our lives to our fullest because you never know when it will be your time.”

It is easier when your best friend is there.

“I had to wrestle with those fears of losing my own kids or my husband,” Love said. “That is something I’m actually still working through.

“I would tell someone who has lost a loved one, just keep fighting … you can see the other side of sorrow, there is joy to be found. It’s really difficult but our faith has gotten us through deep sadness to the hope that we are going to see them some day.”

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