Bulldog Insider feature: Before they were Bulldogs (Haley and Hanna Cavinder)

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GILBERT, Ariz. – Haley and Hanna Cavinder burst onto the scene last year as freshmen, helping lead the Fresno State women’s basketball team to a regular season Mountain West title, and they have continued their standout play this year as sophomores.

But what were these sisters like before they arrived at Fresno State? I caught up with their parents Tom and Katie recently to find out what the twins were like, “Before they were Bulldogs.”

The identical twins are from Gilbert, Arizona near Phoenix, the third and fourth daughters of five total that their parents had. Their father played some college basketball at Nova Southeastern, and it was clear early on, they would follow him into athletics.

Katie: “Right from the beginning, they seemed super competitive, they had two older sisters, and they are close in age, and (they’d) see them running around, and just start right away from day one. One would crawl, the other one would crawl. They just seemed really competitive from day one.”

Tom: “We’d go in the backyard, and we’d have this elevated pool thing, and I don’t know if (they) were three or four, but it wasn’t enough just to dive in, they were doing backflips at three and four years old off of that. I can remember the first time I took them to a skating rink, and they had never put on a pair of skates. We laced ’em up and put hockey skates on ’em, and they just started skating, And they went around the rink pretty fast the first time, and by the time they got around the second time, they were skating backwards.”

The twins used to practice basketball before they went to preschool, and continued to develop their skills by looking up drills on youtube. They played in boys leagues until the sixth grade, but finally joined a girls club team in middle school, where they played up in age, with girls who were two or three years older.

Tom: “It was just a club basketball game, and they were really doing well, and I think it was Haley that missed a shot, (that) would have won (the game), and I think they would have gone on to the championship game. And I think it was about 11 or 12 o’clock that night, and we were at the house, and she was at the house, and she was out shooting that shot. I went outside and I said ‘what are you doing?’ and she goes, ‘I’ll never miss that shot again.’ And so, at that moment, I’m like, ‘you can’t teach this.’ And they just have such a driven path, they have such a chip on their shoulder, maybe because of their size.”

Despite standing just 5’6″ tall, the twins started as freshmen for Gilbert High School. Gilbert went 96-24 in their four years there, as both twins finished with over 2,000 career points. As seniors, Gilbert was the Arizona 5A state runner-up when Haley averaged 21.8 points, and Hanna 21.7 points per game.

Katie: “The high school sports, and their seasons there, were just fantastic, watching them hit their milestones, from a thousand, to two-thousand points, and the support they had from their friends in school there, it was really neat.”

Tom: “When you build the program around those two kids, which they did, they had a great run for four years, and I think they (Haley and Hanna) didn’t just grow as basketball players. I think they grew as young ladies, and that’s what’s more important to Katie and I.”

As high school seniors, Haley was named Arizona 5A Player of the Year, and Hanna, 5A Offensive Player of the Year. Haley was eventually ranked by ESPN as the 27th best guard in their class. The twins wanted to go to school together, and turned down offers from bigger schools to sign with the Bulldogs.

Tom: “At the end of their 8th grade, before they were freshman, they had an offer. San Diego offered them before they were in high school. Then, it just kind of spiraled after that. They were getting a lot of national attention. We don’t really like to broadcast how many people were recruiting them, but we have four full drawers, probably 1200 to 1400 different letters. They literally, could have had their own mailbox. There would be 10-to-20 mailings coming in a day. I think what Fresno State and the coaching staff did that kind of stood out, is that they built these relationships with the girls early on, and they kept on ’em. They were relentless in their recruiting, you know, just even sending little cards, and handwritten notes, and phone calls, that I think that Fresno State also recognized there was gonna be bigger players in the game. During that last year and during that whole recruiting circuit, when you’re going to all these games, and they would play sometimes, three games a day, the entire coaching staff from Fresno state was at every game.

Katie: You know, they’re really good at recruiting, super nice people (the Fresno State coaches).”

Their parents say the twins have always been naturally friendly and outgoing. That helps explain their massive social media following (2.6 million followers on tik tok). So what are Tom and Katie most proud of when it comes to their twin girls?

Katie: For me, it’s all the hard work. Club season, always seemed like (it) landed on prom, the two years that they could go to prom, and just to see how they handled that. And some of the things they had to miss, you know, it’s hard as a girl sometimes missing some of those things, but I think just seeing them grow as young ladies.”

Tom: “What I’m proud of is they’re great people, they’re just good kids. They go to church on their own, they’re God-fearing, they really care about other people. Take all of the basketball stuff away, we want all of our girls to be good people, and we want them to build their own successes. As a father, I want them to be independent, be able to be free thinkers, and they’re all on their way to be able to do that, and the twins are leading that charge.”

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