They are dueling point guards from arch-rival schools.
And they are family.
First cousins Moran Lonning and Mullen Wacker meet for the final time on a high school basketball court Saturday, when Decorah (12-10) travels to Waukon (16-6) for a Class 3A regional semifinal. Tipoff is 7 p.m.
“We beat them twice, and we should be good enough to beat them a third time,” said Wacker, a junior at Waukon.
“I get excited to play against Moran. Decorah’s our biggest rival. Everybody plays their hardest.”
It’s not a civil war. But it is a family feud. It’s awkward for the girls, maybe worse for the adults.
“Sure, it’s fun to all be in the same conference and see them play, but I would say it is more bitter than sweet,” said Kealy Lonning, Moran’s mother and Mullen’s aunt. “It’s painful for me.”
At the hub of it is Jim and Micki Connor, the girls’ grandparents, who live in Waukon.
“My grandma, she definitely cheers for Waukon and for Mullen,” Moran Lonning said. “She cheers for me too, but not for Decorah.”
The rivalry has tilted in Waukon’s favor recently. The Indians swept the two Northeast Iowa Conference games this season and have won seven straight against the Vikings through the past three seasons.
Included was a regional victory last season that ended Decorah’s season.
“Sometimes it seems I play differently against Waukon,” said Lonning, a senior whose family moved to Decorah about 10 years ago. “There’s just so much family over there. I get more worked up.
“It just sucks to lose to them.”
Don’t get Lonning wrong. She loves her cousin dearly.
They grew up together and still hang out together. They call and text frequently. When Wacker was involved in a cookie-baking contest with her teammates, Lonning helped her out.
“First place, baby,” Lonning exclaimed.
And pity the competition when the cousins are on the same side in an athletic event.
“When we play ping-pong together, we’re unbeatable,” Lonning said. “We dominate. We get in people’s heads.”
But when the Indians and the Vikings take the court, the cousins don’t have mercy on each other. Quite the opposite.
“They go at it tooth and toenail,” said Waukon Coach Gene Klinge.
“When we play, I want to take it to her like anybody else,” said Wacker, a junior who averages 18.6 points per game.
Waukon has rebuilt nicely after being gutted by graduation from a team that made the 2009 state semifinals and last year’s state final.
By all accounts, Wacker is extremely aggressive to the basket.
“Once she gets the ball, she doesn’t stop for anyone,” Lonning said. “She’s going to score or draw a foul unless you draw a charge. She’s so powerful, she takes a straight line to the basket.”
Lonning is more of an outside shooter, who also relies on defense to create baskets. She averages 14.5 points per game; her 116 steals is fourth-highest in the state in any class.
She was a state track champion in the 3,000-meter run as a sophomore and has finished second and third at the state cross country meet in successive years.
Basketball is Lonning’s first love, though, and she’s never made it to the state basketball tournament.
Wacker was a reserve last year for Waukon’s second-place team, and wants to lead the Indians back. Saturday’s winner will face Dubuque Wahlert or DeWitt Central in a regional final Tuesday.
“I’m going to play my hardest,” Wacker said. ”I don’t want Moran to beat me. I think she feels the same way.”
Afterward, they’ll shake hands and pat each other on the back. “Good game, Moran … good game, Mully.”
Maybe they’ll share an embrace. Maybe they’ll shed a tear.
But before that, they’ll fight. Tooth and toenail.