Kara Moffatt can trace the arc of her Lakeside volleyball team’s drive to a third-place trophy at last weekend’s state Class 1A volleyball tournament to a mid-October night in its Nine Mile Falls gym.
Through their first eight games the Eagles had swept past every opponent in three straight games, but two days prior her Eagles had lost a game at Deer Park.
On Oct. 17 long-standing rival Freeman stormed in and promptly won the opening game of their match, 25-23.
“Freeman always really pushes us,” the Lakeside coach said. “And we just thrive off our competition.”
Lakeside rallied to win the next two games, but the Scotties were not done and took Game 4 by the same score as Game 1.
That set up a decisive fifth game that pushed Lakeside, pulling out an 18-16 victory.
“That match was great for us,” Moffatt said. “It made us go back and re-examine where we were and what we were doing. It pushed us to get better.”
The results played out Saturday in Yakima. Freeman reached the semifinals, falling to Chelan in four games. Lakeside was in the other semifinal, where the Eagles were swept by King’s.
Chelan beat King’s in a five-game thriller for the state title. Freeman and Lakeside battled for third and fourth place, with the Eagles winning in four games.
One of the toughest parts of playing a state tournament comes when a team loses in the semifinals and has to quickly regroup to play for third place.
“That is so tough,” Moffatt said. “No team goes to state with a goal of placing third. When the dream of winning a state championship is destroyed, it’s really hard to get yourself mentally ready to play again like that.”
And to face your greatest rival for the fifth time in a season is even more of a challenge.
“We lost that first game and I think that was the wake-up call we needed,” Moffatt said. “We played better after that.”
Lakeside won in four games: 21-25, 25-16, 25-20, 25-23.
“After the game, our girls and the Freeman girls were getting their pictures taken together,” Moffatt said. “The parents were talking to one another. It was really a very friendly moment.”
Lakeside spent the entire season ranked atop Class 1A. Chelan, the eventual state champion, spent much of the season ranked No. 1, with King’s sitting at No. 2. Lakeside was No. 3.
“It’s ironic that we ended up in that order at state,” Moffatt laughed. “Freeman wasn’t ranked in the top four.”
No matter the sport, the Scotties and Eagles invariably end up battling each other with something major on the line.
It is a rare season that doesn’t see the schools playing three or four times during the season, with an occasional battle once again at state.
“I sometimes wish we didn’t have to play them that often,” Freeman coach Eva Windlin-Jansen said, laughing.
In 2016 Lakeside needed to get past Freeman in the state semifinals before they could claim the state title while the Scotties came home with a fourth-place finish. Last year Freeman placed sixth at state while the Eagles placed eighth.
The level of familiarity between the programs goes even deeper than that, however.
“I was at a wedding this summer and there were families from Lakeside and Freeman there,” Windlin-Jansen said. “Our kids know each other pretty well. They play together and against each other on summer teams – and not just in volleyball but in every sport.”
Tucked out of the way on the Idaho border, schools like Freeman and Lakeside are closer to Montana than they are the nearest Class 1A competition. So they work together to create opportunities to play state-caliber competition late in the regular season as a way to prime their programs for a state tourney run.
Moffatt and Windlin-Jansen have forged a relationship with Cascade High of Leavenworth and Chelan. Last year the Kodiaks and Goats traveled to Freeman for games with the Scotties and Lakeside. This season they traveled to Chelan for the minitourney.
Both coaches agree that neither program would enjoy the successes they have had over the years if it weren’t for the rivalry.
Since the 1975-76 season the Scotties are one of the classification’s most successful programs. Freeman has failed to place at state just four times. Over that time the Scotties won two state titles.
Lakeside has won four state championships, the most recent in 2016.
“This really is the best kind of rivalry,” Moffatt said. “On the field it’s always a battle, no matter the sport. But once it’s over, we like each other and respect each other.”
“It’s what high school sports should be like,” Windlin-Jansen agreed.