Arianna and Cierra Acevedo will play side by side on the court for Hamilton High this winter. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

After rotating in and out, the Acevedo sisters will now be playing side by side.

Junior Cierra Acevedo is beginning her third season with the Hamilton West girls’ basketball team, while her younger sister, Arianna, is back for her sophomore campaign after spending 9th grade on varsity.

Whereas Arianna would spell her sister when Cierra needed a rest or was in foul trouble last season, the two will both be on the floor for the opening tip in 2021.

“This year will be the first opportunity for them to be out there at the same time,” coach Joe Radice said. “When Arianna got her chances last year, it was filling the role of her sister. They may have gotten on together a few times, but not very often. This year we’ll see the little sibling rivalry out there to see how they blend together.”

Actually, the sibling rivalry occurs when they are going against each other, as was the case when they played in Hamilton PAL or when they go against each other in practice.

“Arianna brought it up at one practice, saying ‘Why do you keep matching me up with my sister?’” Radice said. “But it’s just a natural match-up. I told her ‘I want to see the competitiveness come out of the both of you,’ and for them to challenge each other.”

Cierra can understand that logic.

“I guess it makes it harder for each other,” she said. “But that’s also what makes us better.”

Arianna eventually accepted that philosophy.

“It was hard at first,” she said. “Obviously she was better than me because she played longer than I played but it’s definitely made me a better basketball player. It’s helped me getting to the basket against a really good defense and working on my handle. She challenges me, pushes me to my limits.”

The sisters are softball players by trade, but became interested in basketball by watching older family members. Cousins Donovan Yon, Brianna Williams and Edwin Williams all played for West.

“We played against Donovan,” Arianna said. “It was definitely challenging. We still pushed through, played our best.”

Cierra started in PAL at age 9 and Arianna joined her a year later. They first became teammates when they switched to a Bordentown league, and enjoyed the experience.

“We were always good playing with each other,” Cierra said. “In PAL we went against each other because we played at the same speed and both played point guard.”

Cierra, who also plays field hockey, was a pleasant surprise for Radice as a freshman. After watching her during the first practice, he figured on working the 5-foot-1 athletic specimen into the lineup throughout the season.

“By the time we played two scrimmages and we were ready to get started for the season, there was no way I couldn’t put her in the starting lineup,” the coach said. “I couldn’t start her at point right away so I started her as the wing. Her breakout game was late in the season against Trenton High (15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals). She wanted the ball in her hands.

“That’s really when she took over being pretty much the leader of this team. Her competitive nature when she’s on the floor is second to none. That’s really what any coach would love about having her on the team.”

Acevedo averaged 4.5 points per game with a team-high 60 steals and 95 rebounds. She was second in assists with 25. Things got even better as a sophomore as she paced West in scoring (7 ppg), rebounds (80), assists (40), blocked shots (45) and steals (55).

Having an all-around game is something Cierra prides herself on even though she is hardly a year-round player.

“I don’t really have a lot of time because my main sport is softball so I work on that,” she said. “But if I have a little time I’ll work on my dribbling outside my house and do a couple things to make me better. I’m the shortest girl on the team but I like getting rebounds.”

Arianna joined the Hornets fray last year and had modest statistics but played in all 21 games and showed enough late-season potential that has her starting alongside big sister this year. Sophomore Brielle Maigue will be the third guard in the rotation.

“It’s really exciting,” Cierra said. “Thank God we get to play because of Covid. I think it’s going to really be fun this year. I’m proud, watching (Arianna) play from when we were smaller. She’s gotten way better.”

The siblings have administered each other some lumps along the way.

“We would always go hard against one another,” Cierra said. “She’ll get mad sometimes or I’ll get mad, but we both get along in the end.”

Arianna, while hardly tall, does have an inch or two on Cierra. She also looks to provide a little bit of everything, and Radice feels she will do just that.

“They both bring a little something different,” the coach said. “Cierra is a little shorter and a little quicker and stronger, and Arianna is a little taller and slender but is more elusive with the moves she has. They’re just real comfortable out there. I’m really excited to see what they do when they are out there together.”

About the only difference in the two is aggressiveness, which is mainly due to the age difference.

“Arianna will fight for rebounds,” Radice said. “Obviously being a year younger she may get pushed around a little more than Cierra does. Cierra will fight for every rebound and is always in attack mode, which is a great thing. Arianna doesn’t think attack as much, but she’s not afraid of anything. Putting her in the game last year there were no nerves slowing her down at all.

“We didn’t want to rush Arianna. We wanted to let her get comfortable at the JV level at first. We were a little deeper where we didn’t have to force her into the game the way her sister was as a freshman. By the end of the year when Arianna was getting her opportunities she was doing phenomenal.”

How good they will be while playing together remains to be seen, but Radice is happy for the girls.

“I think any group of siblings would be super excited for this,” he said. “My brother and I were six years apart and we never got the opportunity until we were in men’s league games. But I remember having that smile on my face going on the floor with him in a men’s league game for the first time. So for them to have their names called in the starting lineup this year, it’s gonna be a real exciting moment for the two of them.”