Aaron Baxter, pixel5.us
August 14, 2021
WOODROW, TX -- When you stand a full head above your opponent, it might be easy to feel confident when stepping across the line. Standing at 5’2” and 5’3” respectively, you wouldn’t be the first to judge Catalina and Carisa Cortez by their size. But if their stature is supposed to be a disadvantage, certainly no one has informed them.
The Lady Pirates rewrote the history books last year, coming off of a 2020-2021 season having advanced further than any girls’ basketball team out of Lubbock-Cooper high school since the program was first founded 81 years ago. Led by head coach Kyle Lovorn, they cut down the nets after defeating Plainview 78-58 to advance to the class 5A state semi-final. Bringing the ball up the court each night for the Lady Pirates was junior PG Catalina Cortez and freshman PG Carisa Cortez who were often, though not always, each other’s substitute over a 32 game season including their historic playoff run.
An eventual overtime loss to Frisco Liberty in the semi-final game would send them home having fallen just short of every team’s ultimate goal and leave them to mull over an important revelation: A new era of Lady Pirate basketball had arrived.
Directing traffic during that stretch, the point guard tag-team made the most of their responsibility on the court. While they are efficient distributors and make a habit of finding razor thin passing lanes, their disruptive defensive styles steal the show as they continually force frantic improvisation from opposing ball handlers. Court vision on both sides may very well be their most deadly weapon, complemented by superior quickness that they can sustain for the entire game.
Both ladies garnered a bevy of post-season honors in the spring of 2021. Catalina earned her way to first-team all-district along with TABC all-region while Carisa was named district newcomer of the year, as well both landed themselves on the academic all-district list. This summer, Catalina was named to the TGCA 5A/6A All-Star team, an honor given only to the top 24 5A and 6A juniors in the state.
With the 2020-2021 school year behind them, the now senior and sophomore duo look to join their teammates in submitting an appeal to set the record straight. I caught up with the Cortez sisters who were gracious enough to give me a glimpse into their process and talk about what it has been like to grow up in a family obsessed with the game.
How old were you when you first picked up a basketball?
Catalina: I think I was in first grade. When my brother would have a clinic or a practice, I’d play with a ball on the sidelines. I fell in love with it from the beginning and never had any second thoughts.
Carisa: It was first or second grade for me. I would see my brother and sister be so naturally good at it and, of course, the "baby sister" wants to be just like them. I’d be dribbling on the sideline at one of my brother’s clinics and ‘Lina would be coaching me... She still puts me through drills, haha.
Catalina and Carisa both would tell you that their inspiration and biggest supporters have been their father and each other. "Whenever I think about my passion for the game, playing with a certain confidence and a chip on your shoulder, I’d say my dad has been a big part of that.", Catalina shared. Carisa spoke of her sister, "I’ve always been by my sister's side, like a tag-a-long, but she’s always helped me and I’ve always looked up to her… trying to mock her, in a way."
UIL basketball has an off season, but these two do not. This summer the sisters donned the red and black with their Lady Pirate teammates to compete in multiple elective tournaments, winning the TBC State Tournament (6-0) and taking second place in the 2021 ACU Team Camp (4-1). After they hang up their Lady Pirate jerseys they put a different one on and dive into the challenges of AAU play with Team Lex Breeze.
The two believe that the time they have spent in AAU basketball over the last few summers have given them experience which they draw upon when they find themselves deep in the playoffs or in do-or-die situations. "Being familiar with the pressure of the challenges in AAU play definitely helps us in school basketball.", Carisa told me, "When we play school ball, we’re representing Lady Pirate Basketball, coach Lovorn, and each other. You’re fighting for something different."
When asked what their biggest takeaway from their time with Lex Breeze this summer has been, Catalina and Carisa didn't hesitate when speaking about renewing their love of the game. For them, it's an expression of their passion for basketball. Carisa put it simply, "At the end of the day it’s you, the ball, and the basket. It helps me remember to have fun, and to not get lost in things like stats or recruiting."
"At the end of the day it’s you, the ball, and the basket."Carisa Cortez
Looking back at last year, Are there any special moments that stick out in your mind?
Catalina: One specific moment was during our fourth round playoff game vs. Mansfield Legacy. We were underdogs, a lot of people we knew were telling us we wouldn’t win that game and all we had was each other. Avrie [Douglas] tore her ACL in the first quarter and, as a team, we were panicking because we were worried and unsure what had happened. In that moment, we all had to have each other’s backs. When we got the gold ball, no one wanted to hold the trophy, we all just hugged each other.
Carisa: That same moment is the one that sticks out to me. We were all locked in and there for each other... I don’t really have the words for it, it was just incredibly special. We all fit ourselves onto four seats on the bus on the way back--fourteen of us--we shared four seats, not letting go of each other, haha.
Any parent would be elated to watch their kid see the level of success that “Cat” and “Riss” have, to see them make school history and live out their passion on a daily basis on the court, but Robert and Patricia Cortez get to experience that in a rare and special way as they watch their daughters compete side by side on the varsity team for not just one, but two years. "They are a lot alike, but also very different, it’s hard to articulate.", said Patricia.
"They don’t take shortcuts. If the coach tells them to do 10 reps of squats, they’re going to do them all the way because it matters to them. They hold each other accountable because they know better.", Robert said of his daughters. "We’re raising more than basketball players, we’re trying to raise young women that will do great things in the world."
As iron sharpens iron, so one sister sharpens another. Having your sibling as a quality player to practice with and against at all times of the day and night is an asset not many athletes can lean on; Something these two are constantly taking advantage of. Carisa shared a bit about her experience as a freshman on the varsity team, "Going from middle school straight to varsity in high school, I had expectations for myself to be a better all around athlete. I was never really anxious about it because I knew I could do it and I had a helping hand, my coaches and family had those same expectations for me as well."
Catalina emphasized her goals going into her final season in high school, "Obviously there are individual awards and recognition you want to achieve, but what I want is for my team to go to state. I want us to be the first Lady Pirates to win a state championship. I want to play in the Alamodome, which has been my dream since my sophomore year."
Credit for the recent success of the Lady Pirates belongs to many. Catalina and Carisa have been a significant factor and they understand exactly where they fit into the equation. "We can't get too high, we can't get too low.", the sisters agreed on keeping themselves and their teammates in the right state of mind at all times.
The Cortez sisters possess a rare focus and have their sights set on the highest goal as they begin the school year. They have a family behind them who walks by faith and who understands that if you strive for the utmost integrity and quality of character, winning will take care of itself.
All rise, 2021-2022 is now in session. Cortez & Cortez will now present their argument.
-Written and photographed by Aaron Baxter-