It didn’t take long for Caroline and Katherine Coyer to make an impact on Oakton’s basketball program. The twins started all four years of playing for the Cougars, compiling four district championships, three Northern Region championships and a state title in the process.
Nowadays the sisters are sharpening their craft at Villanova, where they’ve wasted no time making their presence felt on the hardwood. Through 16 games this season, the two sophomores accounted for 27.5 percent of the Wildcats’ points, 35.3 percent of their assists, 20.5 percent of their rebounds and 31.1 percent of their steals. Caroline, a preseason All-Big East selection at point guard, is second on the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game, while Katherine averages 7.4 points per outing, including a recent seven-game stretch where she shot 58.6 percent from the field.
“It’s definitely nicer having them on my team than against them,” said Villanova junior forward Lauren Burford, a former Fairfax High standout. “I think being from the same area is kind of nice because you can relate to each other on things from home and stuff like that. They came in right away and were both huge parts of our offense and defense. They’ve helped us out a lot.”
Burford, third on the team with 9.2 points per game, is hoping to combine her experience with the Coyers’ talent to lead Villanova to its first NCAA Tournament win since 2004 this year. The Wildcats came up just short last year, falling to No. 8-seed Michigan 60-52 in the first round to close the season at 21-11. Heading into Wednesday’s game against St. John’s, Villanova sat in fifth place in the Big East at 13-4, 3-3.
As a freshman last year Caroline averaged 7.4 points and 21.6 minutes per game before being sidelined for the regular season’s final 11 games with a hand injury. That prompted Katherine to burn her redshirt and play in the season’s final 14 games.
“It was a really tough decision where you just have to do what’s best for your team, whether that means just going in to play three minutes to give someone a break or going in to contribute to the offense or whatever that means,” said Katherine, who averaged 2.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 15.0 minutes per game during that stretch. “There was definitely a lot that went into it, but a big part of it is that Caroline and I get to spend our last season together, which is obviously awesome. I definitely don’t regret it because I got a lot of experience I wouldn’t have otherwise. It really helped coming into the season.”
That experience has helped the Coyer twins gain the confidence needed to lead a young team with just one senior seeing significant playing time. It’s no surprise that reuniting on the court has led to increased production for two players who insisted they be recruited as a package deal out of high school.
“You’re getting used to a new offense and the speed of the game,” Caroline said. “You go into the game and you’re super nervous. You’re constantly trying to think about all the things you need to do because every possession counts in college. This year those things are much more second nature.”
Though she might lack the scoring instincts of her sister, Katherine is still valued for her tenacity on defense and her intelligent decision-making. Through 17 games she was the only player on the team to have more steals (15) than turnovers (14).
Still, given her 50-percent shooting from the floor this season, it’s clear that Katherine is also gaining confidence in her stroke.
“Obviously I’m still a defensive-minded player; I always have been,” Katherine said. “I think that losing as many seniors and as many scorers as we did last year, I’ve definitely learned to be more offensive minded. I’m learning to shoot the ball more and be more confident with my shot. So I think that while the defense is still there, I’m learning more on the offensive end and increasing my confidence there every game.”
Villanova lost three starters from last year’s squad, including its two leading scorers. But that’s not stopping them from setting the bar high this year, not with their three Fairfax natives leading the charge.
“Since we lost so much leadership last year we had to have a lot of people step up in different ways — it’s scoring, it’s leadership, it’s defense. It’s not just one thing,” said Burford, who leads the team with 34 three-pointers made this season. “The good thing about this team is that a different person takes it up each game. We do have the people who score every game, but different games everyone steps it up.”