Team rivalries create sportsmanship, dedication, and goal setting

Every athlete is familiar with the concept of rivalries. They date back to the earliest days of sports, and can range from friendly to ferocious. At PHS, rivalries are often kept with teams within the county that compete at a similar level academically and athletically, thus making it more rewarding for the school when one team beats the other. This spring, the sports teams are diving back into training and competing against their biggest opponents.

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Between the baseball, golf, lacrosse, softball, tennis, and track and field teams, PHS has an abundance of rivalries, the most common being with its neighboring schools in West Windsor. Although PHS and both West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South are within different divisions for state competition, the Mercer County Tournament and Colonial Valley Championship ensure that the schools play each other during the postseason, not including any regular season games.

The majority of the track team counts its biggest rival as WW-PS, which was recently named the “Indoor Track Team of the Year” by The Times of Trenton. “[During] cross country [in 2013] we wanted to beat [WW-PS] at county’s, and they completely floated us,” said Lou Mialhe ’16, a distance runner. “I think that ever since we’ve had the idea in our heads of wanting to beat them as much as possible.”

Recently, WW-PS did better than PHS in the Meet of Champions. This winter, Christina Rancan ’16 of WW-PS claimed the title for the 1600-meter run, while WW-PS’s girls 4×400 meter relay team came in fifth place. In the boys 3200-meter run, WW-PS’s Nikhil Pulimood came in second place, while Princeton’s Alex Roth ’17 finished 14th out of 39 competitors. The county meet showed the Princeton boys taking third overall with 26 points, while South came in first with 99 points.

However, this competition has for the most part remained cordial, as many of the athletes from each team train together over the summer at the Bennett Running Camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. “Even when we’re racing against each other, South and [PHS] … have the same goals to just put our best effort out there,” Mialhe said. “At camp, it’s really friendly, [but when] we run together [we] try to learn each other’s weaknesses.”

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Graphic: Caroline Smith

Taylor Lis ’16, a midfielder on the girls lacrosse team, also has experience playing not just against but alongside her rivals. “WW-PN is one of our greatest rivals,” Lis said. “[The rivalry] is definitely very competitive, but it also is friendly. I have girls that I play with on my club team [from WW-PN], so … it’s definitely exciting when we get … to play each other.”

In 2014, the girls lacrosse WW-PN team beat PHS in the finals of the Mercer County Tournament. However, four years beforehand, Princeton claimed the crown over North, gaining its first county title. “[The rivalry] has lasted a long time, [and started] before I even came to PHS,” Lis said. “It definitely motivates us to work harder in practice leading up to [a WW-PN] game.”

Ben Danis ’15, a pitcher and co-captain for the baseball team, agrees with Lis about the positive fuel of rivalries. “[Our rivalries] have been around for probably as long as the team has been around,” Danis said. “When we know we’re playing [our rivals] we try to put our best pitcher on the mound and play a little harder than we normally do. We have a little bit more anticipation for the game in the days before.”

The baseball team considers the proximity of location and capabilities of opposing teams as the reasons behind its rivalries. “[Princeton Day School is a rival] because … [we] want to see who is the better Princeton team,” Danis said. “We’ve always been pretty even with [WW-PS], so that’s [also] always a good game.”

Likewise, the track team finds that rivalries between equal competitors can serve as motivation both in practice and competition. “The team that we tend to be closest [to] in competition level has been either of the West Windsor schools or Hightstown,” said girls track and field Head Coach James Smirk. “Mercer County has been, traditionally, a very strong track and field county, so counting ourselves as rivals among those schools is a pretty impressive feat.”

“Our rivalries are competitive in the sense that whenever we go and compete against each other there’s kind of [an] agreement that you know you’re getting great competition,” Smirk said.

Some teams feel a complete lack of amity toward their rivals, choosing to interact with them only in the midst of a game rather than during a clinic or within a club. The boys lacrosse team counts Allentown High School as its greatest rival, and chooses not to be friendly with its longtime opponent.

“[Our rivalry with Allentown] is pretty competitive. We’re not really friends at all,” said Colin Buckley ’15. “We really don’t like [Allentown].” Buckley is a defender and co-captain of the boys lacrosse team.

“[The rivalry] started my sophomore year,” Buckley said. “We lost to [Allentown] once that year in the beginning of the season, and then we beat them by a lot at the end of the season in the [MCT] final.” By playing against rivals more than once, teams can gather an understanding of how much they have progressed over the course of the season.

Overall, rivalries are about teams pushing each other to strive for the best. By honoring the positive and negative aspects of competition, athletes can allow themselves to become stronger as individuals and further unify their teams.

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