Twins Musa and Maya Wichhart are playing their final prep[ basketball seasons at Catonsville High.
Twins Musa and Maya Wichhart are playing their final prep[ basketball seasons at Catonsville High. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

When Catonsville High School senior twins Maja and Musa Wichhart moved to Catonsville from India at age 5, their mom, Lori, couldn't keep them away from playing sports.

Born in Michigan, the twins moved to Ghana when they were eight months old.

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They lived there until they were 3½ then moved to India for 18 months before coming to the states permanently.

Their introduction to competitive sports came when they both played recreation soccer in Catonsville.

Since those first days on the pitch, their athletic paths have weaved in several different directions.

The one exception comes every winter when they both play basketball for Catonsville High.

While the 17-year old pair will go separate ways in college, their mom is savoring the last couple of months watching them play high school basketball for the last time.

Unfortunately, when the varsity boys play at home, the girls are on the road and vise versa, so it often means mom has a decision to make on which child to watch.

It's not the first time she's had to follow her kids to different schools.

When they were in grade school they moved from one Catonsville residence to the Oak Forest area, but Musa wanted to stay at Catonsville Elementary School and Maja wanted to attend Hillcrest Elementary — and that's exactly what they did.

Musa has gone his own way before, but Maja remembers when they hung out together way back when they lived in Ghana.

"I would remember random things like this guy who would always bring his horse by our house and we would pay him to ride the horse," said Maja, noting Musa also rode the horse.

They also celebrated their birthdays with the Ghanaian people.

"Ghana Independence Day is the same day as their birthday [March 6] and so we would take them to the parade and they always thought it was for them," said Lori, who worked for a humanitarian aid organization.

"We used to (do things together) but he's just too cool for me now," said Maja, noting Musa sometimes takes her to Chick fil A when none of his friends will go with him. "I'm always a last resort."

Maja has played varsity basketball for four seasons, while Musa is in his second season on varsity after playing on junior varsity in the ninth and 10th grades.

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"Before, I would go to Musa's [earlier] jayvee games and race to Maya's varsity games," said the single mom.

When basketball season ends, Maja turns her focus to the outdoor track team.

At last year's Baltimore County outdoor championships, she finished first in triple jump, third in the 100-meter hurdles and fifth in long jump to earn 18 of the Comets' 22 team points.

Ironically, when she attends the University of Colorado on a track and field scholarship in the fall, she will do so in an event — heptathlon — which isn't sanctioned in Maryland prep schools.

The heptathlon is a series of seven events over two days. It includes the 100, 200 and 800 meter runs, along with four field events — high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin.

"It's just a lot of events and it's just really tiring," she said. "Usually, I'll wake up day two after I do an ice bath the night before and my legs are really sore. I think 'Oh my God, I have to do the long jump, and the 800 is the thing I dread.'"

The emotional toll is equally exhausting.

"It's tough mentally in general because if you mess up in one event your whole heptathlon is kind of ruined," she said. "You have to not dwell on it and move past it and that's really hard to do."

Her toughness in multiple sports carries over to the basketball court, where Catonsville coach Mike Mohler employs her on the low post.

"She's been moved around to fit our needs and this year she has fit our needs inside," said Mohler of the team's second leading rebounder. "She has good timing and a good sense for the ball. Her greatest asset is her instincts inside. She gets a lot of deflections inside and she is very quick offensively."

The Catonsville High coach of 21 years can only imagine if she was strictly a basketball player.

"If she concentrated and went full tilt on any of her sports, she would go to college for that sport," he said. "She is an incredible athlete. If she concentrated on basketball, she would have played in college."

Musa could play basketball in college and has drawn interest from four Division III colleges, but his goal is to attend the University of Michigan and study business and marketing.

He has already been accepted at Towson, West Virginia and High Point universities and is waiting to hear from his first preference Michigan in March.

"I have a lot of good ideas on my mind that I can't really express right now, but once I learn how to express them, I feel like I would be really good at marketing," Musa said.

It's not that he doesn't have the talent to play other sports, as he proved when he caught 13 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns (9.7 yards per catch) as a junior for the Comet varsity football team after playing several years of rec football with the Catonsville Stars.

But, he gave up football his senior year to focus on basketball full time.

"One of my friends is coaching the jayvee so I wanted to work out with him," said Wichhart of junior varsity coach Teron Owens, who played on the 1992 Catonsville High state championship basketball team.

'I feel a lot more confident," Musa said. "I can shoot a lot better."

Did he miss playing football?

"I miss it a little bit," Musa said. "When I went to the games and I saw Antwan (Pearson) or Jamal (Johnson) making these spectacular catches, I'm like, 'Oh that could have been me and everybody is cheering.'

While he doesn't get cheers on the gridiron, he hears them at concerts as second chair tuba player for the band.

"I started playing in the fifth grade and I thought this was pretty cool so I've been following it through ever since," he said.

Maja, an avid reader, played cello from the first to the 10th grade, but she gave it up because sports consumed her time.

Sports didn't play much a part of their time in India, other than a few international school relay races, but their mother saw they had athletic potential early.

"They were really coordinated and fast and they liked playing with balls," said Lori, who played basketball and ran track in high school in Iowa.

Musa was naturally fast and he didn't hide his desire to get somewhere in a hurry when he was a youngster.

"That's why he doesn't go out for track, which is really annoying, because he had to run everywhere and everywhere was a race," mom said. "He had to get somewhere first."

Last year she gave him an ultimatum.

"Last spring, I told him he had to get a job or go out for track and he got a job," said mom, who reaped the benefits, along with Maja, of his job working at Peace A Pizza in Catonsville.

"I come inside the house with a box of pizza and they instantly look at my hands," he joked.

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The two twins may share a taste for pizza, but the feelings weren't the same when it came to track and field.

Musa joined the Catonsville Cougars summer club track team when he was in the third grade, but he gave it up shortly afterwards.

"I don't like running," he said.

Running isn't Maya's favorite part of track and field either, but she gave up recreation lacrosse to learn the sport under the tutelage of Tony Christian.

Christian is the father of Catonsville High graduate Kellie Christian, a state champion in the 400 meters in 2007, before running collegiately at Georgia Tech.

"He's the reason why I stuck with track so long," Maja said. "Track isn't always fun, but he's just such a nice person and he's so fun to talk to and have around and he just knows how to make me have fun."

That eventually led to her competing and doing extremely well in the heptathlon.

In 2013, she finished 14th in the nation in the 15-16 age group at the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships held in North Carolina.

The following summer, Wichhart qualified for the junior nationals in Houston and took sixth in the under-17 age group after placing second at a regional qualifier in North Carolina.

Her brother wasn't there last summer in Houston watching the grueling two-day event for nine hours, but he was there for the regionals in North Carolina and Maja was well aware of him.

"He only came for the first day because it was too hot and sunny, so he stayed in the hotel the second day, but it was nice because he took video and I heard him cheering for me in the background," she said.

Musa stayed in the background at Catonsville High by not joining the track team and his friends let him know it when they ask why he doesn't compete in track like Maya.

"People get on me so much for that," Musa said. "They say why aren't you as good as Maja?"

One day, Maja suggested he try the triple jump.

"That is not easy on the knees," he said. "It was not good."

But, Maja supported him when his AAU basketball team went to Cocoa Beach, Fla. for a tournament.

"For a long time, we combined vacations with sporting events," said Lori, who teaches at Perry Hall High School.

Depending on the sport, they never knew what cities they would be in during any summer and Lori never knew what sport Maja was going to play in high school.

Maja played club soccer until sophomore year in high school before she decided to try out for the volleyball team.

"I always thought volleyball looked cool and I wanted to try it," she said. "I just got better and the team was more fun and the volleyball team really got along. Volleyball is the most fun."

This past fall, the 5-foot-10-inch hitter led the team in kills.

Six-foot-5-inch Musa wasn't always as confident in himself athletically when he got to high school.

"They were both off the charts in height and low on weight," mom said. "They were tall scrawny kids for a long time."

That changed when they got to high school.

"In high school I had to assert myself more," Musa said. "I'm passive and I was tall, but I was like scrawny and I let people push me around so I had to be more assertive."

Through the years, he got more physical on the basketball court.

"Every coach to this day tells me to be strong with the ball," he said. "Don't let them push you around."

Comet coach Matt Fannon has seen that toughness more often this year.

"He has really transitioned to a nice power forward," Fannon said. "He's the one who will battle down low and crash the boards harder than anybody else."

Wichhart, who was fourth on the team in scoring (7.8 points per game) and second in rebounding (3.8) through 10 games for the 5-5 Comets, has also become more aggressive offensively.

"I would say he was a little timid on the offensive end last year and this year he's attacking," Fannon said. "He's not finishing as much as he would like, but he's not afraid to get in there."

Off the court, Fannon has grown fond of his power forward.

"He's a fun kid to be around," Fannon said. "He's very down to earth. He likes to joke around and he's a smart kid. Him and Maja are both smart kids. It's nice to see him kind of grow into a leader. He is just kind of that silent leader. He just does things right and people follow him."

He hopes to lead the Comets deep into the postseason and maintain a 3.5 grade point average.

"We all want to win counties at least, and even if we don't win counties, we still want to push forward in the playoffs and to get somewhere and make a mark for ourselves and Catonsville basketball," Musa said.

While Maja is hoping the Comet girls basketball team can get back to the Baltimore County championship game and make a strong postseason run, she is looking forward to outdoor track season.

"I'm really excited for this track season," Maja said. "Even though I'm going to college, there are certain milestones I want to hit. I want to do really well at counties and at states and I really have goals I want to meet."

She already has the school record and is a three-time county champion in the triple jump and she is tied for the school record best time in the 100-meter hurdles.

Christian expects her to improve in everything.

"I've never coached any other multi-event athlete before, but the way she gets multiple PRs (personal records) every times she competes is pretty fun to watch," he noted.

If you can keep up with her.

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