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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Beyond the Rivalry: Friendliness doesn’t quell ASU-UA rivalry

    JACOB KONST/Arizona Daily Wildcat
    Jacob Konst
    JACOB KONST/Arizona Daily Wildcat

    It was a week before Thanksgiving in Tempe and a group of about 15 students were snaking their way up ASU’s famous “”A”” Mountain. Safely past the police station near the base, sophomore biochemistry major John Chapman and the rest of the crew prepared to make the first strike in the battle for the Territorial Cup, the oldest trophy in college football.

    Armed with blue and white paint, they proceeded to cover the Sun Devils’ symbol in defiant Arizona colors.

    “”It’s kind of a rush to go up there and show your school pride. I hate (ASU),”” Chapman said.

    Stories like this make it obvious that the rivalry does not lack student recognition or passion by any means. But despite the name-calling and low blows that are basically inevitable in the week leading up to an ASU game, this is not the traditional rivalry, characterized by a complete and extreme dislike between the two schools.

    “”Well I don’t hate them – just when it comes to sports,”” Chapman said.

    For instance, as the Wildcat women’s basketball team has been dealing with the loss of former Arizona center Shawntinice Polk, who died of a blood clot in her leg Sept. 26, months before her senior season was set to begin, the Sun Devil women’s basketball team made a friendly gesture to the Wildcats.

    The team cooked the Arizona players dinner and gave them gift bags that contained CDs and “”Polkey”” wristbands. But even though the girls respect each other very much off the court, when it comes to game time, the rivalry is intense.

    “”We don’t like ASU,”” walk-on sophomore forward Jessie Robinson said.

    Saturday’s game at ASU will be Arizona’s last regular-season contest, and Robinson said it will be an intense and passionate contest.

    “”I think it will be a good game,”” Robinson said. “”We’re both coming out to play our hearts out. The team that plays best together will win.””

    In men’s basketball, Saturday’s contest will be the 209th meeting between the Wildcats and Sun Devils, with the first game having taken place in 1914. Arizona won the last battle between the squads, an 80-70 win Jan. 25 in Tempe, and has dominated historically, leading the series 135-73, including winning 21 of the last 22 matchups.

    Beyond just basketball, ASU is a team Wildcat athletes love to get up for, Arizona coaches said.

    “”The big thing is that (rivalry games) are good games and very competitive games,”” Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea said.

    At one time, ASU softball was in the business of consistently embarrassing Arizona, Candrea said, but that pattern has long since shifted in the past 18 years, in which the Wildcats have won six national championships and made 17 Women’s College World Series appearances. More recently, Arizona swept the Sun Devils in three games just last season.

    Even in a sport where Arizona has been a perennial power for a long time, “”in this day and age with so much more parity, it’s hard to say that you’re going to dominate someone,”” Candrea said.

    This idea of cyclical fortunes is prevalent in other sports as well.

    “”We beat Arizona State 66 straight times back in the ’90s, but those days are long gone, obviously,”” said Arizona men’s club hockey team head coach Leo Golembiewski. “”Now they’re a much more talented team – they want to play hockey.””

    Even while being a club team, the No. 10 Icecats are consistently highly ranked nationally and often draw a sizeable crowd at the Tucson Convention Center, their home ice. The Icecats lost the season series 4-3 this year with both teams winning multiple games in each other’s home rinks.

    Golembiewski, who posted his 550th career victory in Scottsdale against ASU Feb. 4, said he believes that the rivalry games definitely mean more to everyone involved.

    “”I think it makes (the 550th win) a little sweeter, because it’s a significant rival,”” he said. “”It was fun to get that milestone against ASU.””

    This year, with both teams hovering around the top 25, the games have been especially important to both the Sun Devils and Wildcats.

    “”Those are pride games,”” Golembiewski said. “”You look at Arizona State, and I think when we play them, it’s the whole pride idea. You want to beat them.””

    No matter what happens over time, or what sport is concerned, one thing is clear: for the players, coaches and fans alike, the Arizona-ASU rivalry game is always of great significance.

    “”It’s always been a very competitive but friendly rivalry,”” Candrea said.

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