Cross-town Contests Offer Unique Opportunity

Alden Glass

While focus is often given to Whitman’s intense rivalry with the Whitworth Pirates, another local rival provides Whitman’s sports programs with invaluable non-conference contests each season; the Walla Walla University Wolves. Situated in College Place, WWU plays in the Cascade Collegiate Conference at the NAIA level. As a smaller school, WWU offers six sports, men and women’s basketball, men’s soccer, volleyball, softball, and golf. I sat down with members of the Whitman sports community to discuss these contests between the local rivals.

One reason that our programs benefit from these crosstown contests is the ease and convenience of playing teams close to home. Traveling not only puts a burden on the student-athletes, but also on the program’s budget. Men’s basketball coach Eric Bridgeland, in an email interview, said the cost played a large role in the scheduling decisions.

“Men’s basketball cannot get any free Division Three games at home. We give each opponent a cash guarantee and hotel rooms, or we would never get a non-conference Division Three home game” Bridgeland said. “We play WWU simply because it does not cost us anything (travel, Per Diem, etc.). When they are on our schedule, we have exhausted all efforts to play a full Division Three schedule because of costs”.

Another big benefit of the cross town games is the excitement of playing a new opponent. After the grueling conference schedule where there can be up to three or four meetings a season between conference opponents, preseason friendlies provide a needed change of pace. Junior and soccer captain Trayvon Foy spoke to this excitement of playing a new team.

“From the get go, when you say Walla Walla U, people get excited because they aren’t from the same league as us. Most of the time the games don’t count for anything. Also there’s the idea of a cross town rival, where we are super excited for them to come to our field” Foy said. “It’s kind of like a building opportunity for our team, especially if we play them early in our season. It’s better for us because it helps us establish how we are going to play as a team, what’s working, what works best for us, who plays where, and stuff like that. Playing Walla Walla U does offer some advantages over playing a conference team, especially at the beginning of the season”.

Junior and member of the Missionaries’ volleyball team, Cherokee Washington also discussed the excitement that came around playing against WWU.

“Walla Walla U is one of our first games of the season. It doesn’t count for conference but everyone gets super pumped up and pretty hyped to go out and see what we have going into the season. Preseason games are extremely beneficial, especially for a team like us” Washington said. “We’ll go on two trips and then play WWU. It lets you know what you have going into season, so it provides an opportunity to work on things and get after it in conference”.

The excitement and benefits of a preseason cannot be stressed enough for a team. Preseason games provide a lower stress environment to help develop players who are new to the atmosphere of collegiate athletics. Foy discussed how these types of games are a great learning experience for younger players.

“For the guys who don’t get a bunch of opportunities to play in the conference games, but do get a chance to play in the WWU game, it’s really important for them as a player. When you get your first opportunity to play and you do well that can make or break you as a player. If you play in a conference game and do terrible, it’s going to take a long time for you to come off that and become better” Foy said. “But when playing in a less competitive game, you can build your confidence so you can go into your next game confident. Playing with confidence is a huge thing in athletics, especially in college athletics”.

When asked to recall their own memories of the games against WWU, both Foy and Washington could point to the benefits they received from these non-conference clashes. Foy viewed it as an opportunity to truly connect with the team, as it was his first substantial game time.

“I got to play against WWU when I was a freshman, and usually freshman don’t get to play a lot, so I was super excited. This was the most substantial time I was able to play. It was special for me because I got to play with the seniors that graduated my freshman year. It was a really good bonding experience to be able to learn from them in a game setting rather than practice” Foy said. “The end result, yea we won, but it wasn’t exactly about winning, it was more about accomplishing our goals. I got an assist, and because I play defense I don’t score or assist a bunch, so it was very special for me to be able to do that in my first college game”.

Washington saw the game as the perfect curtain raiser and a chance for the volleyball team to show their ability.

“It was a god game, pretty exciting as I remember. It was good to start the season with a win. The team this year was so solid, even though our record didn’t show it. It was really fun to go out and sort of have a free for all and see what we can do. We were really excited and coach was excited to show what we could do. We had a lot of people come. That was Whit City’s debut and was exciting for everyone involved”.

While we give a lot more attention to the conference schedule, discussing the benefits of non-conference action, especially against local rivals, demonstrates how important every game is in the season. So next fall when Volleyball and Soccer are lining up for the annual crosstown competition, remember it isn’t just a friendly, it’s an opportunity.