This was supposed to be the first year they went their separate ways as athletes.
Moriah Oliveira had figure skating. Sierra Oliveira had running.
But then you can say the twin thing happened, and the Evangelical Christian School eighth-graders found themselves together again on the cross country team.
“We really needed her, too,” Sentinels head coach Wes Penberthy said of Moriah, who joined the team six weeks into the season.
Rarely do eighth-graders make this much of a difference on a varsity team, but the Oliveira’s aren’t your average athletes. Nationally, Sierra finished last track season with the best 800-meter time in the Class of 2020. Moriah had the second best mark in the 400.
They were state runner-ups in both of those races. And they were expected to help the Sentinels compete for district and region cross country titles in 2015 after losing Class A state champion Sarah Candiano to graduation.
But the 14-year-old Moriah, who is steadily emerging as a national figure skater, chose to pursue her sport on ice instead.
While her sister spent weeks running with the Sentinels, Moriah traveled to Coral Springs four times a week with her mother to train.
That was made possible, of course, through ECS’ online academy, where she was homeschooled. Sierra, meanwhile, attended the school’s Fort Myers campus.
The additional work paid off. Moriah said she completed her first double axel a year ago. Ten months later came the triple salchow. In recent weeks she had been working on other triples.
In years past, competitions have taken her across the country, to Pennsylvania for east regionals and sectionals in Minnesota.
She’s up as early as 5:30 a.m. taking classes and often trains for as much as three hours a day on the ice, working through her spins, her jumping and then her programs.
“Nationals is my ultimate goal,” Moriah says. “You have to get in the top four to go to nationals. And at sectionals last year, I got 12th.”
But recently, injury sidetracked her. She stepped off the gas pedal a little bit, doctor’s orders.
She was having back pains and they suggested she take it easy on the skating. Not one to take time off, however, Moriah decided to join her sister on the cross country team again.
“I went to one of the meets, and I saw her running and I was like, ‘I want to run. Why aren’t I out there running?’ she said.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. While Sierra was leading the Sentinels alongside freshman Elizabeth Wetmore, the team still was without a lynchpin.
“We were missing depth,” Penberthy said.
The week prior, Penberthy had pulled Sierra, who was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease (pain in the front lower part of the knee at the ligament-bone junction), out of the Optimist Invite at Lehigh on Sept. 13 to avoid injury.
“It wasn’t necessarily my knee,” she said. “I was just going through regular growing pains in my leg. And it was like just hurting.”
Whether it was physical or mental, something sparked Sierra once Moriah joined the team two weeks later. She finished third overall at the Mariner Invitational on Sept. 26, while her sister failed to finish in her first race.
But that wasn’t a big deal, either. Penberthy is taking it slow with Moriah, because he knows her track results were no fluke.
“For Moriah, I really want her to come in and compete,” he said. “She’s in better shape than she thinks she is.”
A year ago, the Oliveira’s were rounding into form. They finished 1-2 behind Candiano at the state meet, and were just six seconds apart, helping the Sentinels finish third overall.
A year wiser, they went into the pre-state meet at Florida State on Saturday with a chance to see how much they’ve improved.
Sierra went out in front, and Moriah followed soon after.
The twins finished 11th and 14th for the Sentinels, respectively, which meant they went 1-2 overall as teammates.
“Our team just got a lot better,” Penberthy noted.
The twins are at it again.