Bay Area rivalry still going strong
It's a college rivalry almost as old as the NCAA game itself. For 40 years, Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco have been battling each other for Bay Area bragging rights. Their first meeting came in 1967 -- just eight years after the inaugural College Cup -- and the two teams have met every year since. The latest matchup between the two rivals ended with the No. 5 Broncos earning a 2-1 win over USF last Friday.
The game has all the makings of a perfect rivalry. Less than an hour apart, it's not unusual for players to consider both schools during the recruiting process. It's the city university versus the suburban school. Both teams have storied histories -- with five national titles between the two -- and both have been among the best in the West Coast Conference in recent years.
"I think that's what sports are all about, whether it's soccer or college basketball or football," USF coach Erik Visser said. "The traditional rivalries where you get a chance to compete and battle for your alma mater. There's a lot of pride at stake."
Visser knows all about the rivalry having been involved in the matchup dating back to 1978, his freshman season with the Dons.
"As a player, taking part in it for four years, it's a great experience," Visser said. "That's something that keeps you going in sports. Getting a chance to compete against your rivals and your friends, first as a player, then as a coach, that's what keeps you in this business."
Santa Clara coach Cameron Rast draws from his firsthand playing experience as well.
"It gives you a unique perspective on what the rivalry really means," said Rast. " I got a special sense on what it takes to compete against a quality university like San Francisco and to battle to try to be the better team in the rivalry. As a coach, you want to pass along your experience to the guys and hope that experience will help them in dealing with the game and continuing to be successful in that rivalry."
Perhaps what separates the showdown between these two teams from so many others is that it appears to lack any of animosity that defines so many other epic rivalries.
"Both teams battle for 90 minutes, the coaches as well, and then after that, we have a cup of coffee and a handshake," Visser said. "I think that's what competition is all about. Our program, our players, our coaching staff really look forward to playing them."
And those involved insists that the rivalry really is that friendly. A number of the players know each other from their high school or club playing days.
"There's just a really high level of respect for each other," Santa Clara defender Matt Hatzke said. "We go out and compete as hard as we can, but it never in a dirty fashion. It's always a clean hard game. We give each other respect because we know each other because we're from the same area trying to do well."
That doesn't mean that it isn't surrounded by that air of excitement that defines a meeting with a crosstown rival.
"Conference games always are a higher level of intensity, specifically with USF," Hatzke said. "They won the conference the first two years before last year and we won it last year. It's always a battle between us because a lot of our games determine who is going to be the conference champion."
This year, Santa Clara isn't only the conference favorite -- they're a considered a national contender. Broncos advanced to the Elite Eight last year and are flying high in the national polls.
"We've gotten some good results and had some clutch performances with goals," midfielder Peter Lowry said. "I think we're in the right place and going in the right direction, but we still a lot to be done. We don't feel we're at our top level right now, but we've definitely put ourselves in a good position to go forward and to keep improving."
While many already consider Santa Clara to have punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament, the Broncos are looking further than just making it that far.
"Last season, we had a good run at the end, but not good enough," Rast said.
A sophomore on the Santa Clara team that won a national title in 1989, Rast wants to help take the team there again, this time at its helm. He feels this team has the potential to make the deep run necessary and the players see that possibility as well.
"Our strength has been our spirit," Hatzke said. "We have a never-say-die attitude and a belief that no matter how late in the game it gets, we will still be able to come back."
The Broncos proved that have on Friday as they added another exciting chapter to the legendary rivalry. With two seconds left to play, Bronco freshman Jalil Anibaba scored the game-winner in Santa Clara's victory.
But, before the postseason, the USF-Santa Clara rivalry will play out one more time as the two teams face off again on Nov. 9.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.