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Cougars vs Saints: A Family Affair

The Van Kempen family (from left) Christine, UMM Cougar Abby, John, and St. Scholastica Saint Holly. (UMM Sports Information)

Minnesota Morris and St. Scholastica have met at least twice a year on the basketball court since the two became Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) foes in the 2003-04 season.

RELATED: Cougars edge Saints in game one, college women's basketball, UM-Morris athletics

Most fans of the two institutions have always had a clear side to cheer on. For John and Christine Van Kempen though, it is not that easy. Their daughters, Abby and Holly, are in direct competition with each other; Abby is a freshman center with the Cougars and her older sister Holly is a junior post player for the Saints.

When the Cougars and Saints squared off in Duluth January 14, John and Christine split their allegiances in half, literally, each wearing t-shirts that were split down the middle with St. Scholastica blue with Holly's No. 12 on one side and Minnesota Morris maroon with Abby's No. 42 on the other half.

"My aunt made those shirts," said Abby. "They're so proud of those."

Those shirts can be seen again Friday night at Jim Gremmels Court when the Van Kempen sisters square off at 5:30 p.m.

Abby and Holly competing against each other is not something new, however. They were teammates for two years at West Central Area School in Barrett, Minn. and went against each other every day in practice. Growing up, the two had numerous encounters on the driveway or in the school yard.

Each time they played one-on-one, the elder Van Kempen sister got the better of the younger.

"We played a lot on the driveway growing up and it was never too competitive," said Abby. She was and is still stronger than me and she pushes me around sometimes."

That changed when they met in Duluth as the younger Van Kempen finally got the upper hand as her Cougars defeated the Saints 68-62. In that game the two had nearly identical numbers; Abby had six points and eight rebounds while Holly recorded seven points and seven rebounds.

This season, Abby has been putting up better numbers than her older sister, though. The freshman has more points (202 to 139), more rebounds (232 to 118), and more blocked shots (46 to 30) than her junior sister. Abby's totals in rebounds and blocked shots lead the UMAC.

Abby gives a lot credit for her success this season to the older sister who pushes her around the basketball court.

"I give her a lot of credit, because she was pretty mean to me on the court," she said. "She made me tougher and she made me a better player. I think I play a lot like her."

Minnesota Morris head women's basketball coach Tim Grove is grateful for that toughness Abby has and it has given his Cougars a powerful post presence to go along with veterans Tori Holt and Kendra Raths.

"With her height and long arms, she adds a dimension to our team that we don't otherwise have," he said. "With that size comes the ability to block and alter shots and she changes what teams like to do offensively.

"Offensively, she brings an ability to score with offensive putbacks and just scoring in general in half court sets."

Abby is following in her parents footsteps of attending Minnesota Morris. John was a member of the men's basketball team in the late 1980s and is a 1989 graduate.

As for who the parents will be cheering for Friday night, Abby has a simple answer.

"Me," she said jokingly. "I'm their favorite."

The Cougars tip off against St. Scholastica at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 in Morris.