One of these years coming, it will be fall or winter and, just for a moment, Mariah Cooney or Danika Neumann will be confused because one won’t be playing next to the other.
During their school years at Butte Central, spring was the only time that happened — when Cooney was competing in track and Neumann was playing softball. Otherwise, they’ve spend a career together on the playing floor.
“We’ve learned to love each other,” Cooney said with a laugh during a recent break from a volleyball practice in the Maroon Activities Center. “We’ve gone to school together forever.”
This fall, the 6-foot-1 Cooney and the 5-7 Neumann are senior co-captains for ninth-year head coach Kaila Minehan. Both players are in their fourth varsity season, Cooney starting all four as a middle hitter and Neumann starting three, taking over libero duties when her sophomore year arrived.
“We even hang out away from school,” Neumann noted.
In basketball, Cooney plays a post and Neumann is a guard. The friendship is so close and revolves around sports — so much that both hinge their academic and athletic existences from it. It is a byproduct of year-round participation is sports.
“We’ve been doing the sports, year-round, forever,” Cooney said. “If I had all day to do my homework in, I don’t know what it’d be like. And, I do all the (summer sports) camps. I live here at the MAC pretty much. I should pitch a tent.
“I couldn’t imagine not doing all that. It’s good, though.”
Cooney slammed 108 kills and posted 31 blocks on the volleyball court last fall.
Neumann, too, is an involved Maroon, but admittedly does not dedicate so much offseason time to the BC cause. The reason is that in addition to being a standout volleyball libero — Central A Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 — she is a really good middle infielder in softball, having been a three-year starter at second base for the high school team. So, she plays in the local Amateur Softball Association (ASA) fast pitch program in the summers.
“So, I have to pick and choose camps,” she said, “but I do come to the (Butte Central) school camps.”
Through the school year, though, Neumann is busy for the Maroons.
“It would be weird not to do it all,” she said, contemplating the question of if being a three-sport participant was especially taxing.
Both plan to go on to college, but neither is ready to declare which one or to study in what discipline. They would probably like to try collegiate athletics. Volleyball and softball are Neumann’s favorite sports, she said, but basketball is not drudgery for her, either. The tall, athletic Cooney likes all her sports fairly equally.
A season may occasionally wear her patience and being toward its end, occasionally, but she finds herself anxiously waiting for its next time around, too.
“I’ll say I missed this so much,” she said. “I never thought I’d say that out loud.”
Athletics have given both girls a path ahead, they said. Cooney said she’d like to play sports in college and Neumann said the benefits of participation extend beyond the court or playing field.
“I think (sports in college) would be a good way to make friends,” she said.
“I’ll need something to do,” she said. “If I don’t have sports, I’ll have to take up dog-walking or something.”
Their draw to volleyball involves the intricacies more than the athletic outlet.
“Volleyball is such a mental sport,” Cooney said. “On the court, everybody knows what to do. There’s a lot of trust. You can’t control who on the other team will hit it or serve it to 20 times in a row. So, you have to have a lot of trust in each other.”
Four freshmen and six seniors make up the bulk of the numbers on this year’s roster. Cooney and Neumann are charged with helping catch the newcomers up with the veterans. Two juniors and a sophomore are also on the varsity.
“It takes a lot of teamwork,” Neumann said with a serious nod.
Being athletically involved also rids the participants of jitters that may come from playing in public. Both Neumann and Cooney have been on the floor and field in front of spectators most of their teenage years. Many of their teammates can say the same.
The two leaders were hopeful the many matches played in non-conference tournaments the first two weekends of the season will help alleviate the younger, inexperi4ence players of such anxieties. Then, the major quest can be the focus.
“It’s hard to tell how good we are right now,” Neumann said last week. “Last year, we had made a big, big leap in the program and then were disappointed that we didn’t make it to State. This year, we have a lot of experience.”
So, it has been a positive fall so far as Minehan counts on Cooney and Neumann to help her bring the younger, lesser experienced but quite talented players to be accepted by a good veteran presence. They also have to bring the youngsters up to speed.
Minehan experienced with a lot of lineups, combinations and rotations as the BC team played very well at a tournament in Polson against a strong field, then struggled some at the Windy City Classic tourney in Livingston last Saturday.
A more telltale test will likely be taken on Thursday when Butte Central opens its Southwestern A Conference season at home against neighborhood rival Dillon.