MOSCOW, ID -- When Lizzy and Natalie Klinker suit up for Idaho women’s basketball against a team from Montana, it’s never just another game.
“They losses sting a little bit more if I'm going to be honest,” Lizzy, a senior guard for the Vandals, said. “My sister Molly played (at Montana) and when we were little, we were diehard (Montana State) Bobcat fans.”
The Fairfield sisters weren’t heavily recruited by either Big Sky school in their home state, but there are no hard feelings. They’ve found a home in Moscow, Idaho and they get a chance to show others in the Big Sky and the Northwest what treasure state players are all about.
“So, it's fun to come in and still represent Montana but represent the state with an Idaho school,” Lizzy added.
Though the Klinkers still have a lot of pride for where they are from, they are also just as proud to be Vandals. And after a few ups and downs on the way to their current team, the two are enjoying their final year on the court together.
“It's been honestly like incredible being able to play with each other and we've gotten closer and closer, over the past few years,” Natalie, a junior forward, explained. “Even when we were apart.”
There was a four-year gap between when Lizzy and Natalie last teamed up for Fairfield High School in 2015 and when they reunited at Idaho on the court in 2019. Lizzy signed with Utah State after high school and played two seasons with the Aggies.
When Natalie signed with Idaho in 2017, Lizzy wasn’t far behind – transferring from USU and redshirting the 2017-18 season due to NCAA rules.
“It was a tough move,” admitted Lizzy. “Mentally, I thought I was ready, but I don't know if I was.”
A self-described ‘homebody’, Lizzy felt isolated in Utah.
“I wanted to come closer to home whether that was to a Montana school or to Idaho with Nat,” she said. “As soon as I was ready to transfer, I talked to coach (Jon Newlee) three days later and committed.”
It took some time to adjust.
“It was something super special, but it wasn't all roses,” Lizzy admitted. “There were some dark days. But overall it was the best possible opportunity.”
And so far, the two have seen plenty of success on the court. Last year in the sisters first season together with the team, the Vandals claimed the regular season Big Sky title and advanced to the third round of the WNIT before falling to eventual champion Arizona .
This season, with both sisters in the starting lineup, Idaho is still near the top of the conference standings. The Vandals (16-9, 11-5) are third in the Big Sky and are the only team to beat league leading Montana State (19-6, 15-1).
Lizzy is the third leading scorer for the Vandals, averaging 11.8 points per game while Natalie leads Idaho in rebounding grabbing 6.9 boards per contest.
The Klinkers are used to success after playing key roles for the Fairfield dynasty under head coach Dustin Gordon.
Coming from Fairfield, we have the whole record (120 straight wins from 2010-2015) and everything,” Natalie said. “So, going to college you expect a winning environment and you’re going to put in the work for that. And coach (Newlee) is one of those people who expects you to work hard and pushes you every day, which is kind of what we're used to with Gordon.”
It helps that the sisters love life in Moscow, Idaho. Natalie is studying Animal and Veterinary Science and recently went through the lambing process.
“We had to lamb from 5-7 a.m., then we had a game that day,” Natalie said. “And then we had to go back after the game and lamb some more. That was rough.”
Lizzy is studying Agricultural Economics and hopes to play overseas after graduation with the eventual goal to return stateside for law school.
The Klinkers are a competitive bunch and naturally the siblings often butt heads.
“We can’t really ever finish a game of one-on-one,” Lizzy said. “I'm going to be honest, this summer I clocked her once. Like hard with my elbow.”
They both laughed.
“I don’t know how I didn’t get a concussion,” added Natalie.
But there’s no shortage of love between the sisters and their family which includes mother Marcia, father Marty, sister Molly and brother Tyler – and it grows every minute they spend together.
“She’s my best friend,” Lizzy said. “She always picks me up.”
“I love the way Liz makes me work,” Natalie added. “We’re always on the same page. And even when we aren’t, we just act like we are until we get through it.”
The Klinker sisters sometimes have to fake it, but as time has shown in the end they will always make it.