River Falls’ senior Zac Johnson points out the Wildcats are 6-2 against rival Hudson the last four years.
“So far,” he added.
That’s because there’s a chance the Wildcats and Raiders, who split their two regular season meetings this year and are the top two seeds in their region, might see each other again in the playoffs, giving Johnson one more chance to go head-to-head against Hudson senior and fellow all-state guard Luke Healy.
Johnson and Healy have been friends since sixth grade and have maintained that friendship -- and rivalry -- since making varsity as freshmen on their respective high school teams. And regardless of whether they meet on the court again this season, that rivalry and friendship isn’t going anywhere.
That’s because Johnson has committed to play basketball and continue his education next year at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Healy will study and play ball at the University of Sioux Falls -- just three blocks away. Both schools are members of the NCAA Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and key rivals on the basketball court.
Healy said he’s excited to know he’ll be playing against Johnson again in college.
“We started playing against each other in middle school, then we started doing workouts together and just created that bond,” he said. “And then he committed to Augustana and a couple weeks later I committed to Sioux Falls. And I was like -- ‘Dude! We're gonna be like a block away from each other!’ So it's super fun knowing that he's gonna be down there.”
Healy, who reached the 1,000 career point mark in a win at Rice Lake Jan. 5, was a FIrst Team All-BRC, All-Region, and All-State Honorable Mention selection as a junior and honorable mention all-conference and all-region as a sophomore.
River Falls’ coach Zac Campbell said both players have earned the recognition they’ve received.
“As a coach, it's been special to watch them both grow,” Campbell said. “The respect that they have for one another is evident during their competitions against each other.”
Hudson coach John Dornfeld agreed.
“Both are just outstanding players and have had great careers,” he said. “And then to have them both end up at competing colleges in the same town is so cool.”
Healy is averaging 25.4 points per game this season while Johnson is averaging 24.2. And while both players have a knack for putting the ball in the basket, Healy pointed out there are vast differences in their style of play.
“He's 4 inches taller than me and he shoots the ball really well,” Healy said. “Right now we're both going out and trying to score. But at the next level he's gonna play off the ball and shoot the ball a lot and I'll probably play the point.”
Johnson said Healy has already proven he can play the point at the next level.
“He's a lot quicker than me,” he said. “He's really shifty, probably one of the shiftiest guards I ever played against. I’m taller so I have that going for me but he’s a great player.”
In addition to respecting each other, both also respect the long history of the River Falls-Hudson rivalry, which Healy said is always the biggest game of the year.
“Every year it’s always hyped up,” he said. “And no matter what the records are it's always close; nobody ever blows each other out. That's what we look forward to the whole year during basketball season. It's like, we’ve got to get River Falls this year; we’ve got to get them this year.”
It took until the first meeting of Healy’s junior season before he and the Raiders were able to beat Johnson and the Wildcats behind a then career-high 29 points from Healy.
“That was the first time I'd beat them and he was 4-0 against me,” he said. “I shot it well and stuff and it was so much fun beating them for once. And I got to feel what he felt the four times before that.”
Johnson said his favorite memory of the rivalry came late in his sophomore season when he scored 16 points at home to help the Wildcats clinch the BRC title.
“The game was close and we pulled it out in the end,” he recalled. “And then we got to cut down the nets. So that was probably my favorite experience playing Hudson for sure.”
Up until now, that is. There’s still the possibility the top-seeded Wildcats and second-seeded Raiders will meet again in the playoffs, and provide either Johnson or Healy a new favorite memory. In fact Johnson is sure of it.
“I guarantee we'll probably see them again in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve gotta get through our first round game and I bet they'll get past their first round and we’ll end up playing again.”
And again and again--Johnson and Healy at least-- starting next year in college.
“I’m excited because I thought our rivalry was going to be done after high school,” Johnson said. “So getting to play him again for four or five years is gonna be super fun. And I can't wait to see our friendship grow throughout the next four or five years, and maybe 20-plus years down the road.”