Shell Lake (WQOW) -- Ryan and Michelle O'Connell are both former high school and college athletes. Ryan played football at Eau Claire Regis and UW-La Crosse, with Michelle (then Michelle Burns) a basketball player at Eau Claire North & UW-Eau Claire.
The two got married last June, but last week, they were opposing coaches in a girls basketball game between Spooner and Shell Lake.
"It's a tossup who's more competitive," says Michelle, the head coach at Spooner, "even playing board games at home, we don't play a lot of board games, because it comes down to tooth & nail at the end, and somebody's not going to be talking to somebody."
There was a fair amount of talking the week prior to the game between Spooner and Shell Lake. Ryan O'Connell is in his first season as the Shell Lake JV coach.
"Before I was coaching here," says Ryan, "I was always riding the Spooner bus, going to the games, always cheering on Spooner, trying to support my wife. Obviously, tonight, it's a little different, I gotta take a step back and go with my team, but we should have a good game with them."
"It's very interesting coaching against your spouse," Michelle says, "you want to be able to go home and talk about your day, talk about the sports you're coaching, and have some fun, but when you're rivals, you're just down the road from them, it makes it interesting, not wanting to share the strategies, or the game plan."
A mere six miles separates the towns of Spooner and Shell Lake, so there's always been a pretty good rivalry, even though the Rails and Lakers play in different conferences. And, with the regular season winding down, both teams are looking to build momentum heading into the playoffs. On top of that, neither spouse wants to lose to the other.
"There's a lot on the line," Michelle says, "I tell my girls that every day, we need to win this game, because I need the bragging rights at home as well as on the court, and I'm sure that he's been doing the same with his girls."
After this night, neither Ryan nor Michelle O'Connell can claim complete bragging rights. Ryan was on the losing end of the JV game, in which Spooner edged Shell Lake, 24-23.
The varsity game was close. Shell Lake led by 6 at the half, and while Spooner had its moments, the Rails couldn't rally. The Lakers won, by a final of 50-38.
"Shell Lake played the more aggressive game and that got us in trouble," Michelle says, "we came out scared in the first quarter, and couldn't regain our composure and play that aggressive game that we're used to."
"That was probably our best defensive game all year," says Ryan, "in terms of our aggressiveness, our rebounding, it was probably the best defensively we've played all year."
With the game over, Ryan and Michelle O'Connell can head back to their home, instead of sitting on opposite benches, and the couple can get back to rooting for each other's team.
"We watch the Spooner girls play so much," says Ryan, "you're so used to cheering for them, and it's hard tonight, they made some really nice plays to not kind of cheer for them, you go, oh, you know, they're on the other team, that was hard for me tonight, I've watched those girls play for four years, and you know, they've got a great group of kids over there."
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