BIG HORN — The Big Horn and Tongue River volleyball teams no longer play in the same conference, but the rivalry remains. Due to 2A class realignment, the Lady Rams are in the Northeast quadrant, while the Lady Eagles compete in the Northwest quadrant.
None of that will change the intensity of the players and spectators during the backyard clash.
“It’s definitely one of the games that we all look forward to,” Tongue River’s Morgan Warren said. “The crowd is insane and that really builds up our momentum.”
Both teams stand at 1-1 early in conference play. The two squads won their previous games to snag their first conference win.
Big Horn defeated Moorcroft in straight sets, while Tongue River swept Riverside on the road.
The two squads also play Friday for a tuneup before the rivalry match. Big Horn hosts Sundance, while Tongue River travels to Rocky Mountain.
A little less than halfway through the season, Big Horn head coach Katie Stewart said the Lady Rams have progressed over the weeks but still have a long way to go to reach their goal of a state championship.
Similarly, Tongue River head coach Janelle Manore sees growth every week from her young team as she tries to figure out the best lineups.
“There’s always something else to work on, but things are improving,” Manore said.
Warren added that the team is communicating well so far, to the point where words are not always necessary. She said the Lady Eagles are playing the best they ever have during her high school career.
“I can just look at my setter and know if she’s going to set me or if she’s going to go outside,” Warren said. “We just have a really good team dynamic right now.”
The two head coaches have both held the position at their respective schools for two seasons, and the similarities don’t end there. Manore and Stewart have coached the same team in previous years for Cloud Peak Volleyball.
“We always joke around that there are two times per year that we dislike each other, and that’s when Big Horn and Tongue River play,” Stewart said. “Other than that, we’re pretty good friends.”
Stewart said when the Lady Eagles travel to Big Horn, it is always the most-attended game of the season.
“That helps bring the energy up for the girls,” Stewart said. “There probably is a little something extra, but it’s all in good fun and I think the girls know that.”
“Of course it means something to the girls, but it means something to each community, too,” Manore said. “The crowd is more invested because nobody from Big Horn wants to lose to Tongue River and nobody from Tongue River wants to lose to Big Horn.”
To prepare to face Big Horn, Tongue River’s bus ride Saturday will likely involve a lot of high-energy music and singing along to artists like Luke Bryan, Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa and Gwen Stefani.
“We like to sing, we like to dance, and then as soon as we step off that bus, we’re going to turn serious,” Warren said. “We’re going to start thinking about our mentality and what we want to happen in the game that we’re going to play.”
Warren is friends with several Big Horn players, which adds another layer of competition.
“We’re still rivals on the court and then as soon as we step off, I’m probably going to give them a hug,” Warren said. “I’m like, ‘I love you, but I’m going to smash this ball in your face.’”
The game begins Saturday at 2 p.m. at Big Horn High School.