High School Rivalries Augment Strong Team Bond

From left to right: Anna Johnson, Kate Martino, Margie Smith, Casey Drollinger, Kaitlin Concilio, Catherine Rutter, Sarah Weber

By Carly Grimaudo
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Where there are sports, there's competition, and where there's competition there are rivalries. Rivalries arise for various reasons and function at just about every level of play. It can be a simple game of football in the front yard between friends or a divisional championship between neighboring teams. A tradition of skills and success, paired with a close proximity, formulates the ultimate rivalries, some which are even taken to the grave. While a rivalry is usually associated with dividing athletes, it can actually bring former competitors closer together later in life. For the Holy Cross women's lacrosse team, which includes nine players from New Jersey, rivals became teammates and best friends the instant they stepped on Mount St. James. Leaving behind the times these New Jersey natives battled it out in opposing uniforms on opposing sides, they now enjoy sharing the same end of the field in matching purple as Crusaders.

With the exception of Natalie Colonna (Montgomery, N.J.) and Laura Ryan (Stirling, N.J.), who did not cross paths in high school or club lacrosse with their current teammates, the remaining seven New Jersey ladies have shared the turf plenty of times before coming to Holy Cross. The region of New Jersey where senior Sarah Weber (Summit, N.J.), freshman Anna Johnson (Summit, N.J.) and sophomores Kate Martino (Summit, N.J.), Catherine Rutter (Summit, N.J.), Margie Smith (Mountain Lakes, N.J.), Casey Drollinger (Mountain Lakes, N.J.) and Kaitlin Concilio (Ridgewood, N.J.) hail from breeds both top lacrosse players and intense rivalries due to the proximity of the schools and the talents they produce.

Though each of these four high schools brought fury and fire every time they met one of the other three, the primary rivalries were paired off into Summit vs. Oak Knoll and Ridgewood vs. Mountain Lakes. "The Summit-Oak Knoll rivalry stemmed because both schools are located in the same town," said Summit's Martino, who transferred to Holy Cross this fall after spending freshman year at North Carolina. "When it came to the county tournaments, we always knew Oak Knoll would be the other best team," she added. The Mountain Lakes-Ridgewood rivalry was just as prominent in the area. "Every year our game against Ridgewood was highly anticipated because our teams were so similar," stated Smith of Mountain Lakes. "Every time we played Ridgewood, it was a one-goal game that went back and forth until one team came out on top."

The Summit-Oak Knoll rivalry was also a unique result of a public school and private school that share the same town of Summit, N.J. "All of the girls who went to Oak Knoll were kind of considered traitors to public school," joked Weber. "It was the classic 'public vs. private' rivalry." One of these "traitors" was Rutter who faced Weber her freshman and sophomore years before Weber graduated in 2010. "I am from Summit, so I chose going to Oak Knoll instead of Summit High School, as some of my other teammates did, which in turn augmented to our rivalry," Rutter said. After being involved in Summit lacrosse programs through eighth grade, Rutter knew all the Summit players quite well, including Martino, who she played against all four high school years, and Johnson who she went up against for three years before graduating from Oak Knoll in 2012.

As nearby teams who shared a league, Oak Knoll and Summit frequented competition, that seemed to sway back and forth often. While Rutter recalls defeating Summit in 2010 and 2012 during the regular season, Martino prefers to reminisce on Summit's victories in the county finals later on both years, as does Weber who shared the experience in 2010. "Beating them in the county championship was a great feeling of redemption and winning when it mattered," Weber said. Johnson confirmed the close competition stating, "We would win and lose about half our games to Oak Knoll."

Subtract the public school-private school component and there lies the Mountain Lakes-Ridgewood rivalry, solely based on talent and proximity. Both Mountain Lakes and Ridgewood brought out the highest competition in one-another as they were debatably the area's best two teams. Ridgewood made multiple and consistent appearances in the state tournament during these Crusaders' high school days and faired to be Summit, Oak Knoll and Mountain Lakes' toughest opponent. "If I remember correctly, my high school team beat all three other schools every year I was on the team, though they were always close games," recalled Concilio. 

The Mountain Lakes-Ridgewood Crusader rivalry peaked in 2012, when all three current sophomores who were a part of it shared their final high school season. Smith and Drollinger, teammates then and now, took on Concilio and her team after they all knew they'd come together as Crusaders the following year. "Playing against them was fun and made the games even more competitive," Concilio said.

The meeting between these three wasn't the only time when Holy Cross' current sophomores faced each other following their college commitments. Smith, Drollinger and Concilio also met with Rutter as future teammates when both Mountain Lakes and Ridgewood played Oak Knoll their senior year. "I remember sharing an awkward smile with Catherine as she, Casey and I met in the middle of the field for the pre-game captains hand shake," said Smith "We knew very well that the other was going to Holy Cross, yet we still had a competitive game to play and we couldn't be buddy-buddy quite yet," she continued. "We actually ended up guarding each other in the midfield as well!" Concilio too recalled knowing that she and Rutter would soon be teammates when they played for the final time in high school, though they were close before after playing club lacrosse together for years. 

There's something particular about rivalries that skyrocket competitiveness and fuel the desire and thirst to come out as victors, as these former rivals all know from experience. "The drive and intensity came from the competitive nature of the games; they were always close," Martino said. "Any rival game is a high pressure, high intensity and high emotion game," added Drollinger. "There's just so much built up excitement, hype and will to win that making a stop on defense or scoring on a rival team is just very rewarding and exciting," Drollinger furthered.

Though the former rivalries fizzled once these seven players came together at Holy Cross, they'll enjoy a good laugh, and an occasional brag, when looking back and reminiscing every now and then. The rivalries that once divided them by uniform, bench and an equal hunger to win, actually brought them closer together once they joined on the same side in the same color here on the hill. "We all bonded so quickly because we had so many mutual friends and knew of each other before Holy Cross," Johnson said. "It's funny to think we were ever on separate teams because we've become best friends!" Rutter followed.

Not only are they teammates and best friends, but they're also roommates in the case of Smith and Concilio who've put their high school rivalries long behind them. "When it comes to high school lacrosse, we don't talk about it much," Smith said. "It would be weird to think about considering we have all become the opposite of rivals here! It's so ironic! Kaitlin has been my roommate for the past two years!" Smith closed.

Based on the close-knit, familial dynamic of Holy Cross' women's lacrosse team, one would never know these seven players battled it out once upon a time in the land of New Jersey high school rivalries.