WRITER: Dylan Bida, SUN Sports
Ryan Trujillo and Kaylee Chavez grew up together battling against each other on a backyard basketball hoop, and those countless hours spent with one another certainly paid off by the end of their high school careers.
Taking part in watching the Española Valley High School boys or girls basketball teams this season would almost guarantee two things on any given night: seniors Trujillo and Chavez lighting up the scoring column and taking control of the game while leading their teams.
“Leadership, that’s one thing you see from Kaylee on the court,” Trujillo said about his first cousin. “She’s that spark that her team needs when things aren’t going the right way.”
Chavez had nothing but compliments to say about her cousin as well.
“He’s confident,” she said. “He goes out there and it’s like he thinks he’s going to make every shot. He’s a good leader, he’s vocal and he gets his team to do everything they need to win.”
The constant jabbing with one another brought out pure and raw competitiveness at a young age, for one obvious reason on Trujillo’s part.
“I couldn’t lose to a girl,” he said with a big smile.
Chavez didn’t argue the comment, nor did she pipe back by brining up a scenario where she was victorious, she just laughed it off and said she was thankful for being pushed at a young age.
“It gave me more confidence to know I was playing against one of the best boy players that I knew,” she said.”
The twos journey to becoming one of the most talented players on their respected clubs and in Northern New Mexico began in that backyard at the age of 5 thanks to Kaylee’s father and Ryan’s uncle, Eric Chavez, who passed along his basketball passion and lessons to his daughter and nephew, who grew up more like siblings considering their birthdays were separated by just three days during the month of May in 2001.
“He had us doing drills in the backyard for as long as I can remember,” Trujillo said. “He used to play for Española too, so I think he put the passion in us that he had.”
“Growing up he was also our coach,” Kaylee Chavez added. “We would have EVCA (Española Valley Community Activities) teams and it was always us two on a team and he would work with us. We would practice all sorts of extra hours.”
Eric Chavez, a 1997 Española graduate, explained his job was easy once he got the two hooked.
“There wasn’t a whole lot that I really did, they just loved the game,” he said. “I just would work on fundamentals at an early age and teach them how to play the game. It was all fundamentals back then and they were just kind of naturals.”
It wasn’t just basketball that the father and uncle passed along to his daughter and nephew, but the brains as well. Eric Chavez graduated from New Mexico State University in 2002 with a degree in civil engineering and currently works in project management at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He’s been at the Lab since graduation and has worked in system engineering and construction management as well.
His work rubbed off on Kaylee Chavez and Trujillo, and now both are set to begin working on mechanical engineering degrees this coming fall, also at NMSU.
“He put in us to just go to NMSU and check it out,” Trujillo said. “We both went a couple months ago and got a tour and we liked the engineering department.”
The cousins have been able to balance not only year-around basketball in and out of season, but have also maintained their 4.0 and above GPAs while working an internship at the Lab within the mechanical engineering department.
“They were a bit undecided, so with my experience, I just wanted to introduce them to what mechanical engineering is,” Eric Chavez said. “Even from a young age, I was introducing them to mechanics: I’d teach Ryan how to change the oil in a car and different things like that beside just basketball. I knew basketball wouldn’t get them too far, and they’ve always been really smart kids and I wanted them to focus on academics and we always pushed for that.”
During their basketball stints as Española, Trujillo played varsity for three seasons while getting to play in the Class 5A state championship game in 2018 at Dreamstyle Arena-The Pit and Chavez was long-lived in a Lady Sundevil uniform, earning the honor to wear a varsity jersey since the eighth-grade. She reached the state semifinals with Española four times.
Trujillo’s final ride this year came to an unfortunate early ending as the Sundevils were ousted in the first round by Del Notre High School, but he was thankful to be able to watch his cousin lead her team to two upset victories and scuff the surface of The Pit floor one last time.
The No. 13 Lady Sundevils were stopped in their tracks in the semifinals against Kirtland Central High School, but Kaylee Chavez expressed no regrets about the end to the team’s season and her career, nor never reaching the state championship game.
“It was an up-and-down season this year,” she said. “I think we surprised everyone, and I don’t think anybody thought we would make it as far as even going to state, for a while there.”
The two cousins said they are excited for new adventures and the opportunity to live outside of Española, but the experiences they gained on the court will stick with them for a lifetime.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Kaylee Chavez said.
“I think Española is the best basketball town in New Mexico,” Trujillo added. “Support from the fans and community is crazy.”