A budding friendship between neighboring programs with two very different competitive outlooks.
For years, West Orange and Evans were assigned to the same district for baseball and softball.
District assignments in the FHSAA are based on student population and location. Both schools have large student bodies and are relative neighbors in western Orange County.
So — at least as far as that logic is concerned — being in the same district made sense.
Of course, that’s also where the similarities between the two teams end.
West Orange is a softball powerhouse in Central Florida — arguably on the state level, too, having spent a good portion of the 2015 season ranked No. 1 in Class 8A (now Class 9A).
Girls who take the field for the Warriors come to the program with years of experience in highly competitive travel softball programs, and there are girls on the West Orange bench or junior varsity squad who would start on varsity at most other public schools.
Evans loses almost all of its games in three innings when, by rule, a game can be ended if one team is up by at least 15 runs.
Girls on the roster for the Trojans literally have no experience playing softball before high school, said Evans head coach Patrick Moons. For the girls who participate, playing softball is something to do, a team of which to be a part.
As you might guess, games between the two programs are not competitive, and with the latest round of realignment in the FHSAA, West Orange and Evans are no longer in the same district and therefore did not have to play each other this spring.
But on March 8 at Evans, they did.
So why play a game that ended in three innings with a score of 19-0?
Because, for many of the girls on the field for both teams, as well as the coaches and the parents, the annual game between the Warriors and Trojans is a highlight of the season.
“We like our relationship with Evans,” West Orange coach Todd LaNeave said. “The girls do a great job with it. It’s a great game to play — I love that game.”
The anti-rivalry goes back a few years to when Evans was the host for the district championship. After being eliminated from the tournament, many of the girls from the Trojans hung around and cheered on the Warriors as the tournament continued.
Last year, after the teams played on April 1 and West Orange completed a 16-1 victory, girls from both teams stayed around, and the Warriors worked with the girls from Evans on basic skills in a clinic of sorts. It was an experience that stuck with girls from both teams, who got the chance to do more than just hone softball skills, also chatting about whatever was going on at the time.
There’s no competitive resentment because there is an understanding about how different the two teams are — West Orange starts each year eyeing a run at a state title, while the Trojans are teaching girls who might never have taken the field before.
Instead, when the two teams meet it is a unique opportunity for girls who might otherwise never cross paths to get to know one another and make a new friend.
“They found out that I work at West Orange, and so they’re always asking questions (about the Warriors),” Moons, an ESE teacher on campus at West Orange, said. “Whether it be about Lauren Mathis or Samantha Golden or Coach LaNeave — the ‘big white guy,’ they call him.”
The relationship hasn’t stopped at the after-game clinics, either. Earlier this season, the Warriors donated used equipment to the Evans program. And other programs, including Evans’ new district opponents in Class 8A-9 (Hagerty, Winter Springs and Lake Howell) are even following the Warriors’ lead.
“We go to their places and they do exactly what West Orange did last year,” Moons said.
In fact, the goodwill shown by the Warriors is what inspired Moons and Cindi Brasch, the swim coach at West Orange, to take over the softball program at Evans for this spring.
“We heard about (the relationship) and we were like, ‘Wow,’” Moons said. “I kind of know the (athletic director) at Evans. One thing led to another, and here we are. It’s been truly a blessing.”
And although the relationship could be misinterpreted as a one-way street, Moons insists that is not the case. Rather, getting to know the Trojans has been an important opportunity for the Warriors, too — just as it has been an impactful experience for Moons and Brasch.
“The great thing about the girls at Evans High School is they give you everything they have,” Moons said. “They love the environment (of a softball game), and they love what the sport teaches them. … They are passionate about making themselves better in life.”