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Winning Is Everything

by Marc Narducci; photo by Marc Narducci
Among these longstanding high school rivals, victory is the only option.

Every team wants to win its next game. But there are certain opponents—whether because they’re close neighbors, because they snatched away victory at last year’s championships, or because they’re just so closely matched—that elevate competition to a new level of ferocity. And, of course, there’s no time like fall sports for airing out high school rivalries, at packed, raucous Thanksgiving football games, or at hard-fought conference and division finals.

Take, for instance, Cherry Hill High School West—which loves nothing so much as to face down its neighbor, Cherry Hill East, and come out victorious.

“Ever since I got to West, the only thing you hear about is, ‘If you don’t do anything else you have to beat East,’” says West senior running back/defensive back Jules German.

“There are no words to describe how it feels playing in the game, because it can be so cold and you don’t feel it—because you are so excited to compete in this rivalry.” While we wait for these much-anticipated showdowns to begin, here are just a few of the most intriguing rivalries to watch out for this fall.

FOOTBALL

Cherry Hill East vs. Cherry Hill West. When these two compete in any sport, it is spirited affair—and when it comes to football, all bets are off.

Cherry Hill East leads the long-running series, 29-13, but West has won the last four games, including a 13-12 triumph in 2010. This season, the two will meet at West on Thanksgiving eve.

The long history of the rivalry lends it extra weight, West’s German adds. “You always want to beat East and you don’t want to be the senior class that said you lost to them,” he says.

Cherry Hill East coach Tom Coen has been embroiled in this rivalry for most of his life.

A 1986 graduate of Cherry Hill East and a former football standout for the Cougars, he played in four Thanksgiving games, winning three. “There is a great deal of competitiveness within our town,” Coen says. “It is really a unique rivalry.”

Among the more unique facets of this tradition: To the winner, goes the boot. That is, the Al DiBart Golden Boot Trophy, a bronzed high-top shoe that the winner gets to keep until the next year.

Paul VI vs. Camden Catholic. These two schools, located approximately 10 minutes apart and competing in the same West Jersey Football League Constitution Division, have been longtime Thanksgiving football rivals—and in recent years, things have only become more heated. That’s because, even though Camden Catholic leads the series 26-16-1, Paul VI has won the last two games.

Last season, Paul VI claimed a devastating 13-0 victory—at the same time, clinching the division title.

“The schools are so close to each other, the players from both teams know each other, and it is just a great sporting event,” says Paul VI senior strong safety-running back Max Albertus. “There is always a great crowd and it is just a really special rivalry.”

This year’s game day is on Thanksgiving morning, at Paul VI.

GIRLS’ SOCCER

Lenape vs. Eastern. This rivalry isn’t about proximity or history, but rather about sheer athletic greatness. That’s because these teams are both regional standouts. Amazingly, these two schools have won the last six state Group 4 championships between them.

Eastern was champion in 2005 and 2006, while Lenape has been the state champ the last four years.

In addition, both teams compete in the Olympic Conference American Division, and each is usually invited to the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Tournament—an honor reserved for the top 16 teams in South Jersey.

Moreover, both are often battling for the No. 1 position in South Jersey.

Lenape has been No. 1 in South Jersey and the state in each of the previous four seasons. Eastern has frequently been right there pushing Lenape in the rankings.

“It’s really intense,” says Eastern junior forward Madison Teirnan, among the top players in South Jersey. “It’s probably one of the best games we play all year, and everybody is nervous and tense and it can go either way.”

Lately, Lenape has enjoyed the upper hand, but few schools push the Indians the way Eastern does. “The success of both teams [contributes] to this rivalry,” Lenape coach Kevin Meder says. “It’s one of those games both teams look forward to, and it is usually a one-goal game either way.”

These games are spirited and hard-fought, but cleanly played. One reason for this is the admiration both teams have for each other. “We really respect each other,” Tiernan adds.

“I know a lot of [Lenape players], I play with some on my club team, and it’s just great competition.”

The teams next play on Oct. 19, 7 p.m. at Eastern.

Moorestown vs. Cinnaminson. Moorestown had won 13 straight titles in the Burlington County Liberty Division—until last year. But last season, Cinnaminson overtook the Quakers, and brought their rivalry to new heights.

“I think they are our biggest rival and since they won the division last year I think it intensifies,” says Moorestown senior midfielder Stephanie Toy, who plans to attend Notre Dame on a lacrosse scholarship. “The games are usually decided by one goal, and we always get up to play each other.”

BOYS’ SOCCER

Cherokee vs. Shawnee. These two perennial Top 10 South Jersey teams are neighbors as well as frequent contenders for South Jersey and state titles.

Last year, their rivalry reached new heights when the two met in the South Jersey Group 4 championship at Shawnee. The game was still tied, 1-1 after 100 minutes, before Cherokee won in penalty kicks by a 4-3 margin. The Chiefs then went on to win the state title.

“I have never seen that many people at a high school game, and it was an awesome experience to play before so many people,” says Shawnee senior Greg Biggiani, among the top goal-scoring threats in South Jersey, who has made a verbal commitment to attend Lafayette.

Under coach Brian Gibney, Shawnee has won seven state championships, and has a soccer tradition that rivals any school in South Jersey.

“I think the success of the Shawnee program over the past decade makes them a desirable match-up for anyone,” says Cherokee coach Anthony Gallo, whose school has won two state titles. “No matter what year it is, I think we often use that game as a measuring stick of where we are at that point in the season and where we need to be in the future.”

Don’t be surprised if both teams meet again this postseason, for an all-out battle on the field.

Haddonfield vs. Haddon Heights. It used to be that Haddonfield was un-touchable in the Colonial Conference, even winning 14 straight conference titles. But recently, Haddon Heights has stepped up the competition. Last year the Garnets won the Colonial Conference title and South Jersey Group 2 championship, beating Haddonfield both times in the regular season.

“My freshman year I was a starter, but coach [Jeff Eppright] didn’t start me against Haddonfield because he said I didn’t know what the rivalry was about,” says Haddon Heights senior stopper Austin McCleery, among the top defenders in South Jersey. “That is how I realized how big this was.”

How big is it? “Beating them was one of the best feelings in the world,” McCleery says.

“Our coach always says it is one of the biggest games in South Jersey.”

Anyone who has watched these rivals would agree.

FIELD HOCKEY

Eastern vs. Washington Township. When it comes to South Jersey field hockey, teams have been looking up to Eastern for more than the past decade. The Vikings have won an amazing 12 consecutive South Jersey Group 4 titles and 12 straight state Group 4 championships. Under coach Danyle Heilig, this program has long been recognized as among the best in the nation.

But last year, Washington Township offered plenty of competition. They played Eastern three times—and each game was a nail-biting affair. Still, Eastern won all three games, including a 4-3 victory over the Minutemaids in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinal.

“I feel Washington Township has always been a rival to us,” says Eastern senior goalie Alana Barry, a returning all-South Jersey selection. “Last year was probably the most intense the rivalry got.”

In the South Jersey Group 4 semifinal, Washington Township held a 2-0 lead, but Eastern eventually won by scoring twice in the final 90 seconds.

“It was so nerve-wracking, to the point where we thought we were done and we just picked it up,” Barry says. “We knew we had to come out of this game with a win, and wanted to keep the streak going.”

Some teams are intimidated by Eastern’s mystique, but not Washington Township. “I love the competition against Eastern,” says Washington Township senior Kaitlyn Grabert, among the best midfielders in South Jersey. “Playing Eastern lets you compare where you are as a team.”

Haddonfield vs. West Deptford. Last season, the two teams shared the Colonial Conference Liberty Division title after a closely matched regular season. Haddonfield then beat West Deptford, 2-0, to win the South Jersey Group 2 title.

It wasn’t the first year that the two fought for the South Jersey crown. West Deptford won South Jersey Group 2 in 2009, and Haddonfield claimed the title in 2008.

“It’s just really intense when we meet,” Haddonfield coach Lindsay Kocher says. “Both teams give it 110 percent, and neither is saving anything on the field.”

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 8 (October, 2011).
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