‘I’m going to miss this place a lot.’ Twins not in a hurry to leave Atwater family.

Senior night is coming way too fast for identical twin sisters Kelsey and Lexi Valencia. Both of them are dreading the day they take off their Atwater High girls basketball uniforms for the last time.

Graduation day can slow down too, as far they are concerned.

Many seniors count down to their final day of high school. They’re excited for college or whatever the future may bring.

“I’m more sad about leaving than I am excited about leaving,” Lexi said.

We’re talking about two players who cried with their teammates while going through their last summer practice earlier this year. Imagine the emotions they’re going through with just six basketball games remaining on the schedule.

“I’ve heard a lot of seniors talk about how their senior year was the longest season ever,” Kelsey said. “I feel like this has been my quickest season. I don’t want to blink because it’s flying by.”

The strong emotions are a product of knowing very soon they’ll be leaving a place they’ve come to love in Atwater High. So much so that the Valencias find excuses to stay at school.

Both couldn’t wait to come to high school. They remember Atwater High activities director Nathan Braga coming to their middle school and showing them videos he used to recruit future leadership students.

“Those videos got me,” Kelsey said.

Atwater senior Kelsey Valencia (1), left, and Buhach Colony junior Caly Curran (1), right, fight for possession fo the ball during a game at Atwater High School in Atwater, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Andrew Kuhn

Kelsey is the student body president and Lexi is the vice president this year. They’ve both been involved in leadership all four years, helping plan school events and dances. They’ve played volleyball, basketball and track and field all four years.

“There’s always something to do,” Kelsey said. “I came into high school knowing I wanted to be ASB president. I feel good about my high school experience. I’m going to miss this place a lot.”

They’ve balanced everything while still excelling in the classroom. Lexi currently has a 3.7 GPA and Kelsey has a 3.6.

Their leadership skills have transferred to the basketball court where they are both captains for the Falcons (16-6, 5-1 Central California Conference), who are tied atop the conference with El Capitan headed into the second half of the league schedule.

Twins want to go out champions

Atwater is trying to win its first CCC championship since 1988.

“They’re mini coaches,” Falcons coach JR Davis said. “They know what I’m going to say before I say it. They finish my sentences. When we call timeout, I’ll finish with what I have to say and then they will start talking to the team.

“I don’t think I’ve coached other girls with higher basketball IQs.”

Kelsey leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game. She also averages 7.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.8 steals per game.

Lexi is second on the team at 14 points per game to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

Atwater senior Lexi Valencia (11) attempts a shot over Buhach Colony senior Adrianna Mariscal (15) during a game at Atwater High School in Atwater, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Andrew Kuhn

Kelsey, who is a four-year varsity player, topped the 1,000-point career scoring mark earlier this year and Lexi, who has played three years of varsity, has a chance to join her with a strong finish this season.

The biggest change in Lexi her coach has seen during her time in the program is confidence.

“I wanted her to play varsity as a freshman, but Lexi wasn’t confident enough that she could do it,” Davis said. “I’ve just seen the growth in her, watching her do things she used to be afraid to do like drive to the basket.”

“She was never a great leader with her words,” added Kelsey. “She was more a leader with her actions. Now she yells at people and doesn’t feel as bad about it.”

While Lexi has always been the more serious of the identical twins, Kelsey has been the more outgoing and adventurous one.

“Kelsey is like a freak of nature,” Davis said. “We’ve watched her every year just get that much better. We’ll give her something to work on and it’s like she’ll go all right, and head off to the gym.”

Getting the Valencia twins to say something nice about each other is as easy as ending a government shutdown. However, everyone around them knows they care about each other. They also care about coaches they’ve grown fond of the past four years and their teammates.

College hoops for twins?

The Valencia twins’ time playing together likely isn’t done either. They’ve drawn interest from the same four-year schools and junior college programs.

They still have one more goal to reach before their high school careers are finished. They want to put their year up on the CCC championship banner.

To do that they have to finish strong in the second half of league.

After losing to El Capitan 59-56 in the first round of the league schedule, the Falcons caught a break last week when Patterson upset the Gauchos 60-55 to pull Atwater even atop the CCC.

After the loss to the Gauchos, the Falcons players were part of a group text that went late into the night.

“I don’t think anybody slept that night after the loss,” Kelsey said. “Our defense was terrible. We came to the consensus that it was our worst effort as a unit in the past two years and we paid for it.”

“We’re so used to bullying people. This time a team fought back and we didn’t have enough energy to fight,” Davis said. “It’s hard to explain, but we just weren’t us.”

The Falcons are ready to finish strong, which is something they haven’t been able to do in past years. The Valencia twins are ready to do whatever they can to make sure they do.

“It would have been cool to win it any other year, but the fact that it’s our senior year and we’d be doing with people we grew up playing basketball with,” Lexi said. “There’s six seniors who played their first basketball game together in third grade.”

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