Kendal Cox, an eighth-grader with the St. Michael-Albertville varsity, grabbed a rebound during a recent practice. Her older sister, Kelsie, is a senior for Elk River.
No matter what, the Jan. 13 game between Elk River and St. Michael-Albertville was going to be a lose-lose for Amy Cox.
Her oldest daughter, Kelsie, was sitting on Elk River’s bench. Another one of her daughters, Kendal, was playing for St. Michael-Albertville. One of them was going to go home unhappy. A nervous Amy Cox was trying her best to not cheer for one team in particular, going so far as to sit in a section not clearly identified with either school.
“At first I viewed it as a win-win for us, but it’s definitely not,” Amy Cox said. “Either way, I have a child that is very sad and upset.”
Kelsie Cox is a senior starter for Elk River. When the family moved in May to St. Michael, Kelsie stayed at her high school to finish out her last year, while the rest of her three siblings attended schools in their new town.
Initially, an intrafamily matchup seemed unlikely. But things changed when Kendal Cox, an eighth-grader, made St. Michael Albertville’s varsity basketball team this season.
The two schools have a girls’ basketball history. For the past four seasons, Elk River’s season has ended the same way: losing to St. Michael-Albertville in the Class 4A, Section 8 finals and watching the Knights celebrate their state tournament berth.
The teams appear to be on a collision course this year as well. Elk River is undefeated after 24 games, including a 65-62 victory over St. Michael-Albertville. The Knights are 20-4 and first in their conference.
“Any time you get that playoff history between two teams over a number of consecutive years, a strong rivalry develops,” Elk River coach Jeremy Digiovanni said. “We’re hoping we get to play them one more time.”
Kelsie Cox was forced to sit out the Jan. 13 game — the teams’ only meeting this season — because of a thumb injury that sidelined her for a month. She is averaging 10.5 points per game.
Watching her younger sister in different colors from the bench was a “weird” experience for Kelsie Cox. Back at home, the Cox family is always taking about basketball, but the day before the game, everyone was silent.
“The fact that I wasn’t playing made it a little bit less awkward,” Kelsie Cox said. “We just kept to ourselves.”
When the Coxes moved to St. Michael-Albertville, Amy Cox wasn’t entirely sure Kelsie and Kendal ever would play each other. But Kendal thrilled her mom when she made varsity, and even started her first game after one of her teammates was injured. In that game, she went 5-for-5 on three-point shots, her coach, Kent Hamre, said.
Kelsie worried about Kendal moving to a different town, but said the eighth-grader handled the move with grace. Kendal is averaging 7.1 points per game.
“She has fit in here like she’s been here her whole life,” Hamre said. “I don’t how an eighth-grader pulls this off, going to a rival school. She’s mature above her age.”
Kendal said she wasn’t excited for the move, going to the rival school, but once she made friends and basketball started, she was happy again.
She said she was nervous for that first game, but especially so for the Elk River game. Meanwhile, her sister was thrilled, especially with the result.
“She was so pumped for the game,” Kendal Cox said. “Of course, they won, so she was very excited.”
The two are rivals in uniforms only as Kendal credits her sister with helping her adjust to the new school. The two still don’t want to take a picture together in their different uniforms, to the dissatisfaction of their mother. But Amy Cox plans to get that photo one day.
If a section matchup happens again in the coming weeks, Amy Cox may have to spend extra time planning where to sit. But she’ll be able to take solace knowing her daughters won’t let it harm their relationship.
“I love Kendal. She’s a good sister,” Kelsie Cox said. “The fact that we play on different teams doesn’t change our relationship. We’re still very close.”
Mike Hendrickson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.