For their entire athletic lives, the Rock Falls Rockets and Sterling Golden Warriors have been butting heads on the fields and courts of the Sauk Valley.
On Thursday night, the former rivals will join forces on the court at Sauk Valley Community College.
Recent Rock Falls graduates Molly Buck, Miranda Hewitt and Kenzie Olson will team up with recent Sterling grads Josi Borum, Genea Garza and Gretchen Gould on the Gazette Team at the annual Sauk Valley Media Basketball Classic.
“We’ve always had that rivalry, even back to travel ball and middle school,” Rock Falls’ Kenzie Olson said, “so it’s cool that we get to play together this time. It’s exciting.”
“It’s definitely going to be different playing with our rivals instead of against them,” fellow Rocket Miranda Hewitt added, “but we know what each other can do, so we should go out there and … well, win the game, for sure.”
Even without the extra incentive of the rivalry, the Rockets and Warriors have squared off in some real doozies over the past few years. In fact, during this year’s senior class’ 4 years at their respective schools, Rock Falls holds a 5-3 edge in their head-to-head matchups.
In the last 2 years, only one of the teams’ four matchups has been decided by more than six points.
“We’ve obviously had tight competition with them in the past 4 years that we’ve played them – and we’ve even played them when we were growing up,” Sterling’s Garza said. “So I think it will be good for our team. Even with us not being on the same team [before], we still know strengths and weaknesses, and we can use that in the game to our advantage.”
Despite the rivalry, the two teams have always had a healthy respect for one another, and know how talented the players from the other side are.
“Scouting them and playing them throughout 4 years – and even before that, in middle school – I think we kind of know what we have and what we can do,” Sterling’s Borum said. “It’s always been fun playing against them, because obviously they’re really good, and they’re always really good competition for us. So I think playing together will make us a lot better – and hopefully we’ll be able to win.”
While they’re approaching this as a chance to have fun with friends one last time on the hardwood – “I just want to go out and have fun with my Rock Falls girls and the other girls on the team one last time, for sure,” Hewitt said – the word “win” has come up more than once during the team’s two practices.
“We were joking around when we came here the other day, especially with [Sterling] Coach [Taylor] Jackson being the coach, we kept saying, ‘We’re not losing, we’re just not,’” Garza said with a laugh.
It’s not just playing with their former rivals that the Rock Falls and Sterling natives are looking forward to, but also the chance to lace ‘em up with their lifelong friends before going their separate ways.
The Rockets’ trio saw their careers together end with a 36-30 loss to Glenbard South in the 3A Rochelle Sectional championship game back on February 21.
“To play with Molly and Kenzie one last time is truly amazing, especially after our last game didn’t end so well,” Hewitt said. “I’m definitely going to miss playing with both of them.”
The three Warriors saw the same team end their season 3 days prior to Rock Falls’ loss, a 49-29 loss to Glenbard South in the sectional semifinal. It was even more bittersweet for Borum, who suffered an injury at the end of January and never got back to full strength.
“It was kind of hard, and I’ve kind of lost the feel of it,” Boprum said. “But I’m really excited for this game; it’ll be fun. Coach Jackson’s coaching us again, and I’ll be able to play with Genea and Gretchen again. It will be nice to get in one last game with all of them, and some new teammates too.”
For Garza and Olson, the game marks the end of their competitive sports careers, and gives them one more chance to enjoy a sport they’ve both been playing for as long as they can remember.
“For me, I think it will be good,” Garza said. “I’m not continuing any athletic career after this – I might play some intramurals and stuff like that – but this will be the last big time that I ever get to put these basketball shoes on.”
“I think it’ll be fun just to do it for one last time,” Olson agreed. “Some of these girls are playing in college, but I’m not, so I think it will be fun to do it, especially with Miranda and Molly, since we’ve grown up playing basketball all our lives together. It’ll be fun to do it one last time together.”