January 11, 2008

A St. Louis rivalry isn't new, but here's the South Side remix

It was the kind of game that would write itself. No need to infuse the story with extra drama after a come-from-behind victory in the final regular-season matchup to clinch a playoff bid. And the best part? It came against an archrival.

Maybe the storyline sounds too good to be true or like I stole it from the latest episode of Friday Night Lights, but it actually happened. On November 3, women’s soccer secured its spot at NCAAs, upsetting 10th-ranked Wash U 2–1 at Stagg after second-year forward Brooke Bontz netted a pair of goals in the final 15 minutes of the match. This is what happens when sports rivals go head-to-head.

The next chapter of the Chicago–Wash U saga gets added tomorrow when the basketball squads open league play at the Bear’s lair. Before we add any more to the narrative, though, now seems like a good time to look back and see how the two schools became mortal enemies, on the field at least.

At first glance, it seems like a matter of pure convenience. St. Louis is the only other Midwest city in the UAA, a good road trip distance for hardcore fans to make

the drive south for the big showdowns. Proximity alone, however, doesn’t explain the intensity when the Maroons and the Bears square off.

“I’m not sure how the hype all started, but with us, I think it’s a rivalry that has been built up by years of great competition and tight, exciting games,” third-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele said.

Women’s soccer certainly isn’t the only team to have a history of critical matchups with Wash U. Last year men’s basketball traveled to St. Louis with outright ownership of the league title on the line. Down 37–36 at the half, the Maroons ultimately fell 70–59 to their hosts and had to settle for being UAA co-champions.

Today’s hot competition between the two institutions certainly adds fuel to the rivalry’s fire, but any bonafide feud needs to carry on a longstanding tradition of constant one-upping. For the Maroons and the Bears, the beginning of it all dates back to the forming days of the UAA in 1986.

Both key leaders in developing the new league, Chicago and Wash U set up the battle for the Founder’s Cup in football. Perhaps originally a mere gesture, possession of the Cup has lately become the first step to capturing UAA hardware with 9 out of the past 11 winners of the Cup going on to take the league championship.

The ongoing battle between the Maroons and the Bears has spread far beyond football. For the moment, there are no signs of either side slowing down and easing up on the rivalry.

“I have no idea why Wash is our rival,” second-year forward Molly Hackney said. “Their reputation and success has created a huge target on their back. They’ve built up a program filled with traditions of national championships, which is something that we’re striving toward.”

These days when the two squads face off, they’re playing for much more than a W and bragging rights. Both teams have already climbed the ranks of the UAA and now have to tackle the much bigger challenge of maintaining powerhouse status, adding a whole new dimension of competition.

“…They seem to be one of our bigger recruiting rivals, which really makes the game a little more interesting in its own way.” fourth-year forward Nate Hainje explained.

While the exact origins of how Wash U became the Maroons’ oldest and strongest foes remain unknown, it’s clear that this pitched rivalry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Not when the Bears are Chicago’s team to beat across the board and each game only adds to a tradition of pitched battles each time these squads meet.