As homecomings go, this one is hard to beat – just like Lacie and Lexie Hull.
Since early childhood, all they’ve done is win – state and national championships at Central Valley High School and an NCAA title last year with Stanford.
But if it’s all about the journey, this one comes full circle Friday night at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
In some ways it already has. When the twins arrived at their hotel, their father, Jason, met them with two of the family dogs.
“We had them up to our room, had them running around, jumping on the bed,” Lexie said Thursday before practice. “Not sure if that’s allowed.”
The Hulls haven’t played in the Arena since the “Stinky Sneaker” rivalry game four years ago against U-Hi.
“It’s crazy to think about that,” Lacie said. “It doesn’t feel like four years ago we were here. That’s crazy how fast time has been flying by.”
Now the stakes are a tad higher as the Cardinal face Maryland in the Sweet 16. Make that the Sweetest 16, because the Hulls have been pointing to this moment since before the season began.
Five days ago, the Cardinal was locked in a tight second-round game with Kansas. Then Lexie took over the game in the second half, scored a career-high 36 points and brought the family home – literally.
“I think it’s just, I really wanted it,” Lexie said. “In the back of my head, I was like, ‘All right, I want to play in Spokane, my entire body wants to play in Spokane.’ ”
That body was aching after Lexie took a tumble in the first half.
“I could see the tears as she left at halftime,” said her mother, Jaime, who along with Jason has caught all but two of Stanford’s 33 games this year.
“Then she comes out and has 25 points in the second half,” Jaime Hull said.
The Hulls have been doing that since they were little girls; ultra successful on the court and off, both are on target to earn master’s degrees this spring.
“We are so proud,” Jaime said. “But honestly, I don’t know where that came from – there’s no special sauce. They’re just highly competitive, but especially with each other.”
It began, Jaime Hull confessed this week, in potty training, with the fastest learner winning a prize.
At Liberty Lake Elementary School, the sibling rivalry was cooled – slightly – by placing them in different classrooms.
But there was only one gym. Meanwhile, both were entered in a regional free-throw shooting contest, and only one could represent the school. The Hulls weren’t that kind of parents. They didn’t push; the twins pulled.
“And if one went, the other one wasn’t going to be left behind,” Jaime said.
So off they drove in the pre-dawn to school, where the 8-year-old twins shot free throws while others must have wondered “Who are these crazy parents?” Jaime said.
Intentionally placed in different classrooms so they would use someone else as a measuring stick, they excelled anyway.
By the seventh grade, the twins were playing on Ron Adams’ AAU team, the Spokane Stars.
“They were so skinny, and they could eat mom and dad out of the home,” Adams recalled this week.
“But they had no weakness in their game, and they were always the best two defenders on the team, running all over the court,” said Adams, who has coached the Stars since he founded the team in 1980.
Adams has coached hundreds of players in those 42 years, but he ranks Lacie and Lexie in his all-time top three, along with former U-High and Tennessee star Angie Bjorklund.
The Hulls helped the Stars win more than a dozen major tournaments, while losing perhaps two or three games in their last two years.
“They had what I call ‘competitive greatness,’ something that maybe five or six out of a thousand kids have,” Adams said.
Every coach likes that, but Adams appreciated their character.
“What really stands out was that they are so respectful, and their personality never changed,” Adams said. “And their parents were fantastic; I just wish everybody was like that.”
Freddie Rehkow, their coach at Central Valley, saw it too – the competitive drive, the near-perfect fundamentals and the little things others don’t notice.
The Bears went 29-0 in the Hulls’ senior year, winning the state 4A title and later the GEICO High School National invitational title.
But even a perfect season has its imperfections, and the Bears had the occasional bad practice or a poor quarter.
“Some of my favorite memories are of how they were always so supportive of their teammates,” Rehkow said. “And when they had a bad game, they didn’t show it.”
They had fun too. To help others tell them apart, Lacie and Lexie wore different-colored shoes.
One day, Rehkow tested an assistant by having the twins switch shoes.
“I told the assistant, ‘you need to talk to them,’ ” Rehkow said.
The assistant was stumped, the twins giggled and everyone had a good laugh.
“They just have this zest for life and happiness,” Rehkow said.
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