Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Sports section of the Juneau Empire on Friday, Dec. 3.
Juneau-Douglas loyalties will take a back seat tonight as former Crimson Bears Mahlet Tingley and Annette Highley go head-to-head as collegians for the first time.
Highley's Pacific University Boxers face Tingley's Pacific Lutheran Lutes in Tacoma, Wash., in an NCAA Div. III Northwest Conference clash.
The two college freshmen and good friends were key contributors nine short months ago for Alaska's reigning 4A state champion Juneau-Douglas girls' basketball team. But now, they're opponents for the first of many matchups over the next four years.
The schools could potentially play each other three times a season: twice during conference play and possibly once again in the conference tournament.
"It's like Ketchikan kind of, how we'd play them multiple times a season," Tingley laughed, referring to the Kings, her old prep rival. "But yeah, when we were trying to pick what colleges we were interested in, it was in our fifth-period class where we were always talking about, 'If I go here and you go there, we'll be playing against each other. That would be weird.'
"But now we're here, we've put in the time and this is exciting," she continued. "Of course it would be more exciting to be on the same team, but playing against each other will be fun and it will be another side of each other that we haven't seen."
Like most freshmen, Tingley and Highley are working their way into new, lesser roles coming off the bench. All college players were one of - if not the - best player on their high school teams, but the playing field evens out on the next level.
"In a way, that's good. It's a wake-up call. Now you're with players who are all like you," Tingley said. "You're going to have to find something that makes you different and unique, and that sets you apart. You have to dig a little deeper to find those hidden talents and work that much harder to earn your minutes.
"In high school, you don't have as much competition," she continued. "Here, everybody can play defense, everybody can shoot, everybody has talent. So how hard you're willing to work, how driven you are and your commitment will determine how much you play. It's more of a mental thing here."
Highley, who's played 19 minutes and scored six points in three games for the 1-2 Boxers, said the transition to the college game has been an adjustment.
"But I knew that would most likely happen when I came in," she said. "Sure, I'm used to playing a lot of minutes. But it's fun watching my teammates out there, and then I do what I can with the minutes I get. It's a lot different. In high school, you're going to come across some teams that don't present much of a challenge. If you don't come ready to play here, you're going to get blown out."
"And they'll love doing it," Tingley added, "and nobody's going to feel sorry for you."
Tingley, who has played 22 minutes in two games - racking up five steals against Trinity (Tex.) on Monday - for the 2-1 Lutes, said there's a bit of a logjam at point guard at Pacific Lutheran, so she's carving out her niche on the defensive end. After playing for defensive-minded JDHS coach Lesslie Knight, Tingley said that's what comes naturally to her.
"Amen. That's my specialty thanks to (Knight). That and just being driven," Tingley said. "As a point guard, it's my job to control the offense but for me, it's more like a defensive thing. So when I go in, I do my job there. The work we did in high school definitely prepared us for this. You just have to push yourself."
Pacific Lutheran is in Tacoma, Wash., and Pacific is about 170 miles away in Forest Grove, Ore., so the girls have been texting a lot to keep in touch.
So, ladies, any trash talk texting between the two of you?
"No, no, none of that," Highley laughed. "We're happy to see each other and whatever happens, happens. We're pretty competitive, with each other especially. We'll see how it goes. Off the court, we'll be fine no matter what happens. But on the court, it will be pretty competitive."
"I'm just excited to see her, first of all," Tingley added. "We joke around about who's going to win and stuff like that, but it's just exciting to see a familiar face on the court. The reason we met was through basketball. That's how we became friends and grew so close. I still like to win of course, and we'll do everything in our power to win."
The Lutes and the Boxers tip off at 5 p.m. today, and meet again Jan. 29 in Tacoma.