Triplets excel in athletics, academics at KIPP Academy

ByDavid Hinojosa
Triplets Alyssa, Breanna, and Cierra Cadena wearing KIPP jerseys and holding basketballs

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The question never fails to amuse them.

“We are always stopped wherever we go, especially if we have our hair up because that’s when we look most alike,” Alyssa Cadena said. “People ask us, ‘Are y’all twins?’”

That’s when Alyssa turns to her sisters Breanna and Cierra, and they laugh.

Cierra has her ready-made answer: “There’s three of us. We’re triplets.”

The KIPP Academy seniors are actually identical triplets. They are also athletic and academic standouts.

Two are multisport athletes. Each is ranked in the top 10 of their class.

“It’s definitely special to us,” Alyssa said. “My sisters have helped me a lot in academics and athletics. We’ve built a great bond together.”

All three star on the school’s basketball team, which is coached by their father, Jesse Cadena. He’s relying on them to help the school bring home a third straight state championship in the Texas Charter School Academic and Athletic League. Their season begins later this month.

“I love the game of basketball,” said Jesse, a 1981 South San graduate. “To have an opportunity to coach my daughters is truly a blessing.”

Breanna has earned all-state honors in basketball the last two seasons. She was also the team MVP in softball last year and was the school’s overall athlete of the year two years ago.

In addition to playing basketball, Breanna is a libero in volleyball, pitcher in softball and sprinter in track.

“I’ve always had extra energy, running around the house and throwing things around,” Breanna said. “I realized I probably shouldn’t be doing that. I decided to try out for sports in seventh grade. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed competing.”

Alyssa, who is also a second baseman on the softball team, has earned all-region honors in basketball. Cierra has played several sports before this school year, but is strictly a basketball player these days.

Breanna and Alyssa are ranked Nos. 1-2 in their class. Cierra is No. 6, but has been as high as No. 3. She hopes to regain that spot by the end of the school year. They are enrolled in the school’s International Baccalaureate program.

At 4-foot-11, Breanna towers over her sisters by one inch. All three are guards and their on-court chemistry is solid, they said.

“We hold each other accountable, defensively,” Cierra said. “I feel like I play my best defense when I’m with them because they push me and I push them. We hold each other up to specific levels.”

In June, they had a rare opportunity to share some candid moments with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who spoke at KIPP on behalf of the San Antonio Food Bank. After the speech, the sisters gave Popovich a 15-minute tour of the campus.

“He actually is a really down-to-earth person,” Alyssa said. “I wasn’t really expecting that. He’s involved in the community and wants the best for the community. I found that really inspiring.”

It was a surreal jaw-dropping moment for the sisters.

“I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that much,” Cierra said. “It was a great experience and very humbling. He’s famous and talented at what he does. I have that same passion. … There’s life outside of basketball, although that’s all you see him doing. It shows you there’s always another side of a person. It was neat to see how sweet and caring he was. He took a picture with us, and he was actually smiling. You never see him smiling on TV. It was great to see that.”

That was part of a busy summer. All of them toured colleges and participated in various academic camps. Now that they are back for their final year of high school, Jesse is savoring these moments.

“I’m going to miss it next year, no doubt,” Jesse said. “They worked very hard in their careers, not only academically, but in whatever they’ve decided to do at that particular time. It’s hard when you are coaching other girls, but I will treasure this time.”

After graduation, they are likely going to attend different colleges.

Breanna plans on majoring in journalism and her top target schools are Texas and Rice. Alyssa wants to major in environmental studies, political science and pre-med. She is looking at several small, liberal arts colleges in the Northeast.

Cierra wants to study political science. She does have a particular school in mind now, but hopes to find one that will give her a chance to continue her basketball career.

As they move forward, the sisters are confronted with the reality that they will be apart for the first time in their lives. To the new people they meet, they will no longer be the triplets.

“It’s not like I don’t like being a triplet, but I’ve always searched for this independence and to find my personality,” Alyssa said. “It’s been nice having them there along the way.”

Breanna added: “These are the last moments we are going to have together. I’m ready to see where we all end up. I’m excited for my sisters. They have a lot of potential. They are very smart girls. It’s beneficial for us to develop as our own person, but it’s bittersweet because we have been with each other our whole lives.”