by Jonathan Cohen
Rivalry games are set apart from other games before the season starts. These games are more important to the teams than any other game. Sports rivalries are global; they range from the likes of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, arguably the biggest rivalry in the world, to North vs. sport specific rivals. These games are always special and are almost always the most important game of the season. As the matchups intensify over time, they become an essential part of what is unique and what people love about sports.
Another way to think about a rivalry is by its definition. The Oxford dictionary defines a rivalry as “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.” Many believe that this is a great way to think about sports rivals, as they are, quite literally, competing for dominance on the same field. Sports rivalries play a big part in modern sports. They can have bragging rights, a championship, or many other things involved with them.
One famous rivalry is found very close to home between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in a premier clash in American sports. As many people remember, the Red Sox and Yankees met in the 2003 and 2004 American League Championship series. In the latter, New York led the best of seven series 3-0, and it looked like the Red Sox would have to wait at least one more year to try to “reverse the curse.” The Red Sox turned the series on its head, however, winning four games in a row to move on, eventually win the World Series, and capture the attention of sports fans across the nation.
Rivalries are similarly important to athletes at our school. Senior Jimmy Hodgson, a captain of the football team, explained the importance of the history of Tiger Athletics.
“For the past 100 years,” the Tigers have competed against neighboring schools such as Waltham and Brookline. “I think that being able to continue that, at least while I have been here, and make it a winning tradition, that is really special,” he said, on going undefeated against Brookline and Waltham in the past four or five years.
Girls’ volleyball has also had success in recent years against their rivals. When playing their two main rivals, Barnstable and Andover, they have won five of the last eight meetings against the two teams combined.
The girls’ volleyball rivalries aren’t as old as those of football, but they are still very intense. Almost every year, Barnstable, Andover, and North are three of the last four teams remaining in the state tournament. Barnstable has also won 18 state championships, while North has only won one. This puts a lot of pressure on Barnstable to win, due to high expectations, which makes for more interesting and exciting games, according to the captains of the team.
The girls’ volleyball team has a historic rivalry with Barnstable. “They are the team that separates us from winning states,” said senior Lily Marcus, a captain with seniors Emma Brown, Abby Donnellan, Sofia Perez-Dietz, Liana Riley, and Anna Zucchero. Marcus added, “Barnstable is different from us because they train to win states, not games. They target us, they make lots of smart plays, and they watch our video to figure out how to beat us.” Marcus also mentioned key matchups such as a loss to Barnstable in the 2007 state championship game, and a victory against Barnstable in the state semi-finals in 2008, avenging the loss of the previous year.
In many ways, this North versus Barnstable rivalry is comparable with those as prominent as Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson once said, for instance, that “when the new schedule would come out each year, I’d grab it and circle the Boston games. To me, it was The Two and the other 80.” Bird also added, on the importance of the rivalry, that “The first thing I would do every morning was look at the box scores to see what Magic did. I didn’t care about anything else.”
The rivalry between Johnson and Bird reached its peak in the NBA finals three times, with Johnson winning twice. As basketball fans across the country watched this unfold, they began to understand why sports rivalries so important to so many people.
Needham and North are big rivals for soccer. Both Needham and North have historically challenged each other and been about equal in skill almost every year. Needham and North were very competitive for the title of Carey Conference Champion for numerous years a little more than 4 years ago. When these two teams play, it is always a good game. North and Needham usually have close records at the end of the season.
Senior Alexandra Nugent, a captain of the team, explained that every time North plays Needham, it is always a close game, no matter how either team has done in the rest of the season. She also stressed matching or beating the intensity of the other team as a key. According to her, the way to do this is through hard work.
When we play Needham, “It is just an excuse to work harder than you usually do, even if you are giving 110% each game that you are playing against other teams. It is a chance to push past your limits, and work harder than you even thought you could,” Nugent explained on the importance of the rivalry, adding that “there is an adrenaline when you are playing these teams because you know that you really want to beat them, so you work harder than you ever thought you could.”
All of the North teams have had recent success over their rivals in recent years. However, each team takes a different mindset leading up to big games.
The girls’ soccer team takes a completely different approach than volleyball and football. In the days leading up to the game, I think “we need to train harder. In practice, we work on specific things, if we know their goalie can kick it very far, then we work on set plays when we are defending goal kicks. Who to mark up, where to leave space open, and we work on winning the ball out of the air because we know that their defensive line likes to play long balls over the top.” said Nugent.
The girls’ volleyball team doesn’t prepare differently for big games, according to the captains. They have a set routine for pregame and warm ups, and they stick to that routine, they focus on themselves, not the other team. The captains expressed the necessity to not psych up some teams and not others, because this forces pressure into the game before it even starts.
On the other hand, football does not prepare differently for different teams. Hodgson said, despite not training differently, “there is a lot more energy, I think, but every week there is a lot of energy, but there is something about those games, because on game day, you do feel a little different.”
The rivalries between teams have led to some of the most important games in sports history, and they are often the most anticipated games of the season for players, coaches, and fans alike. Athletes all around the world have formed one rivalry or another throughout their playing careers, which will continue to cultivate the competitive passion that makes up the sports we love.