LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- There’s nothing in the world quite like a good sports rivalry.
It’s about bragging rights and passion, intense dislike mixed in with just the right amount of mutual respect. Win a rivalry game and a season stands a pretty good chance of being considered a success, regardless of what happens with the rest of the schedule. Beat a hated rival, and things can’t be all that bad.
Professional baseball, nothing beats a Red Sox-Yankees series. In college football, it’s Alabama-Auburn. Basketball, North Carolina and Duke.
Only 15 miles or so separate Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Cedar Cliff in Camp Hill. They’re on opposite sides of the Susquehanna River, a fitting line of demarcation. The two schools are rivals in most every sport, but it’s especially heated in field hockey.
Lauren Sotzin was a goalie for Central Dauphin, while Katie Zapp played forward for Cedar Cliff. That meant they would face each other, one trying everything in her power to best the other.
“Clearly, we’re going to run into each other at some point,” Zapp remembered. “I started to realize the rivalry between our schools probably sophomore, junior year. I got to take a couple of shots, and scored on her once or twice. Then, she saved a bunch of my balls. We recognized she was their best goalie.”
And the games themselves? The rivalry?
“They were definitely a top team,” Zapp said. “We looked forward to playing them, because it was always going to be a good game. It was usually a pretty scrappy game, and they usually ended up winning. But we definitely played our hearts out for all those games.”
Who could possibly have imagined that they would not only wind up as teammates at Millersville, but also that they would be in position to win an NCAA Division II national championship together? They’re seniors now, and they’ve been together since that first preseason social as freshmen.
Sotzin was a little homesick, and so shy at the time that she barely spoke to anyone. Zapp was more outgoing and seemed to be talking to everybody, including her former foe in high school. That was all it took.
They’re now roommates and best friends.
“It was an acceptance right from the start,” Sotzin said. “Our class, the senior class, we were all shy in the beginning. But it didn’t take long for us to get close. I roomed with [Zapp] on away trips. I remember our first away trip ever, I was with her, so it didn’t take long at all [to become friends].”
“It’s funny, because we like hated each other in high school,” Sotzin continued, but then she stopped and reconsidered. “I mean, we didn’t hate each other. We hated each other on the hockey field. We’re very competitive people, so it’s understandable.”
Make no mistake about it. They’re still competitive, but only in the sense that they’re trying to make each other better. That’s what teammates do for one another, regardless of where they did or did not attend high school. That was then, ancient history at just four years ago.
“One on ones, she’s really good at them,” Sotzin continued. “When she’s up, I kind of maybe go a little bit harder, but just to make her better in the end. So then, if we ever do that in a game, she’ll be ready.”
“It’s a good kind of competitive,” Zapp added. “We’re pretty competitive, but not against each other. I mean, I love going against her for just shooting or anything like that. I know that she’s going to make me better, and if I have the shots on her, it makes her better. That’s teamwork.”
Neither Zapp nor Sotzin figured to have any expectations for this week. Instead, both referred to the standards in place wtihin the Millersville program. It’s the second consecutive year the team has made the Final Four, and they’re hoping for more this time around.
“We know what we want to do,” Sotzin concluded. “We have experience on this team, so we just want to use that to our full advantage.”