Rachel Cavallaro stood at the top of the slope, several spots behind the starting gate.
As the skiers before her made their way down the slalom course, edging Cavallaro forward, coach Jerry Marchegiani, standing close by, noticed she’d yet to buckle into her skis.
When he offered to help, she refused.
“She goes ‘Oh, no, no, Maria clicks me in. She’s my good luck charm, and I’m going to wait for her,’ ” said Marchegiani.
The 45-year head coach at North Andover High vividly remembers that exchange at the state race two years ago. He also recalls how Maria, Rachel’s twin sister, was late to the lift and was nowhere to be seen. After holding off for as long as possible, Rachel had no choice but to let Marchegiani click her in and race without seeing Maria first.
“He wasn’t really thrilled about that,” Rachel said. “I’m very superstitious, so I look to do the same thing before every race. So knowing that my sister clips me in before practically every race, its just nice to keep it that way.”
Marchegiani — “Coach March” to his players — has usually been more than happy to accommodate the Cavallaro sisters’ pre-game ritual, and the fact that it didn’t happen that day and that Rachel did poorly — she finished 16th, he said, in a race that “was easily a top-ten race for her — did nothing to make him change his tolerance for the little quirk.
The North Andover seniors, after all, have been a staple for the team for the last four years. They’ve continually finished at the top of the race charts, helping lead North Andover to four consecutive undefeated regular seasons. (Another such season immediately preceded their arrival.) In their first year at the school, they led the squad to the state championship, and last year the team lost out on the title to Marblehead by .89 seconds.
“Being twins, they feed off each other,” Marchegiano said. “Rachel really feeds off Maria. Maria is a catalyst for Rachel.”
Individually, Maria dominated the North Shore Ski League this winter despite an injury that might easily have ended her season before it began. Two years ago, she missed the entire season with a hip injury; this year, in a pickup lacrosse game in mid-January before the season’s first race, she suffered a torn ACL.
“I thought it was just a hyperextension,” she said. “So being me, I planned to continue my daily skiing. Two days later, we had our first slalom practice and I had a yard sale on my first run” — joking lingo for a wipeout that scatters all a skier’s belogings — “ . . . and that was when I knew something was up.”
Her left knee had given out, but she wasn’t prepared to give up on her final season. After doctors fit her with a custom brace, she decided to put off surgery until after the state championship this month.
“I think since this is my last year,’’ she said, “I want that last chance to go for the state title, so why not give it a shot?”
Since making that choice, she’s had five winning runs out of seven competitions and won a repeat individual league title. Despite the results, Maria says her knee is weak.
“It’s mentally hard to trust that my knee can handle what I think it can,” she said.
What she hopes it can handle is a shot at the state title in the slalom, something she lost out on by .10 seconds last year.
Meanwhile, Rachel Cavallaro has her share of misfortune this year as well. Twice she’s fallen on the course, once when she clipped the starting gate on her way out. Finishing 63d in one of those races and not at all in the other offset her three top-five finishes, putting her ninth in the league standings, far from her best. (In the year her sister was out of action, in fact, she won the individual title.)
She chooses to focus on the upside of a disappointing year, saying that her good finishes were “showing myself that I’m good enough to be at the top.”
It’s that can-do attitude and team leadership that Marchegiani most admires about the Cavallaro twins.
“It seems Maria and Rachel bring out the best of people,” said the coach.
That was most evident in 2016 when Maria couldn’t compete, he said. She still came to every race, every practice, rooting her teammates on. Her ACL injury this year has meant she takes far fewer runs than her teammates, he said, but it hasn’t dimmed her spirits.
“Never do I see on her face any kind of discouragement, or any kind of grumbling,” Marchegiani said. “It just blew me away.”
The state championship arrives Tuesday, March 6, and no matter the outcome, Marchegiani feels he may never get another two like Maria and Rachel Cavallaro.
“They possess a certain type of magnetic quality,’’ he said, “that seems to make everybody around them perform better and operate at a higher level of enthusiasm and competitiveness.”Matt Case can be reached at email@example.com.