JASPER, Tenn. — At 5-foot-11, Marion County High School basketball player Kayla Brown is about an inch taller than her twin, Lauren. Lauren's hair color is lighter.
They're teammates, but their roles are completely different.
"She has different tastes in clothes than I do, different tastes in food," Kayla said. "We were just born on the same day. We're not alike in many aspects. We don't even look the same. After we tell them, many people don't believe we're twins."
Although the Browns may be more different than alike, they're similar in at least one way. Faced with obstacles, they become motivated.
Between personnel losses and coping with naysayers, the Lady Warriors' season has been filled with adversity. Now that the playoffs are here, they believe it's time to start anew.
The District 6-A tournament begins Thursday with South Pittsburg's girls playing at Lookout Valley and Richard Hardy's boys visiting Marion County in play-in games at 7 p.m. EST. The rest of the tournament will be played at Marion County with four games each day scheduled Friday and Saturday. The girls' consolation and championship games will be Monday; the boys' finals will be Tuesday.
Entering the season, a 14-13 record and No. 3 seeding in the district tournament weren't what Marion's girls had planned. They first had to cope with last year's graduation losses, which coach Randy Ellis believes were tougher on his team than any other in the district.
The biggest void was left by high-scoring all-state guard Keta Robinette, now playing at Young Harris College.
From the pivot, Lauren has led the Lady Warriors this season with averages of 17 points and eight rebounds per game. Kayla has divided time inside and on the wing and has averaged 10 points and seven rebounds.
"It's put a much bigger responsibility on Lauren to score," Ellis said. "Also, Kayla has had to pick up some of the ball-handling duties. That's tough with some of the pressing teams we play. Those two have really stepped up and kept us going.
"They've been natural leaders, and we needed some leadership."
Additionally, a couple of players who had been starters earlier in the year are no longer on the team because of factors away from the program. Lauren said the team has gone from having several guards to now depending greatly on junior point Autumn Towery, whose contributions far exceed her averages of seven points and four assists per game.
"She's our floor general," Ellis said. "She's a tiny little thing, but she plays 32 minutes a game. She usually guards the best player on the other team, too."
Ellis believes a tough schedule has helped prepare his team for this time of year. And although they were swept by top-seeded Whitwell and second-seeded Sale Creek, those four losses were by a combined 18 points, and one game went to overtime.
The sisters recalled how energized the crowds were in the county-rival games against Whitwell. Lauren said she often couldn't hear when the person next to her spoke.
"I remember we were still in volleyball and I was thinking, 'We don't play Whitwell until January 20th. That's so far away,'" Kayla said. "Now it's past us. It just flies. It's going to be over soon. Some girls will regret it if they don't take it in. We could be done next week."
That's not in the Lady Warriors' plans, but neither was the way the regular season went. Now the two born on the same day are looking to spark a rebirth in postseason.
"I had high expectations because of what we achieved the last two years," Lauren said. "It's been a struggle, though.
"I want to do the same thing we did last year, just to prove we could do it. I firmly believe we can do what we did last year when we won the district, won the region and hosted a sectional. We should've won the sectional, but that's another story."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.