BRADEN RIVER — A rivalry is defined as a competition for the same objective or superiority in the same field.
But what makes a rivalry unique?
Is it the passion for the game? Is it seeing dozens of screaming fans decked out in their school colors?
How about the proximity between the two schools? Or the notion of facing the same players you grew up calling teammates.
If you ask the Braden River and Lakewood Ranch High volleyball teams, it’s all of the above.
It’s about bragging rights. It’s about the thrill of competition. And, for the first time this season, it’s about determining district supremacy.
There’s no denying it. Every game has meaning. But, when these two schools step onto the court, expectations are heightened. Emotions are magnified. And friendships are pushed aside.
“They are a tough team,” Braden River senior middle hitter Madison Jaco says of Lakewood. “It’s always really competitive, and their fans are loud and intense.”
Braden River first opened its doors, four miles away from Lakewood Ranch High, in 2005. It wasn’t until two years later, when the Pirates played their first season of volleyball, that the notion of a crosstown rivalry began to take shape.
Since then, the two teams combined have won four district titles, three regional final appearances and a state semifinal appearance.
Over the past four years, Braden River and Lakewood Ranch have gone undefeated on their respective courts, further heightening the rivalry’s intensity.
“There’s something that Lakewood Ranch can do in a rivalry game to make the girls (rise up) to the challenge,” Braden River coach Matt McElhinney says. “They definitely don’t want to lose.”
The Lady Pirates and Lady Mustangs met for the first of three possible meetings this season Sept. 10. The match also served as the first district meeting between the two schools, bringing an entirely new meaning to the budding East County rivalry.
“The rivalry is real,” Lakewood senior Ali Milbourn tweeted before the game.
Braden River jumped out to a fast start, taking the first two games 25-17 and 25-15. But a slow start led to extra motivation for Lakewood, and it stormed back to take the next two games 25-20 and 25-14.
With the match on the line, the Lady Pirates turned to Jaco and Taylor Wallace, fellow co-captain. Tied at 11-11, the Lady Pirates won the next four points to take the match 15-11 and earn their first district win of the season.
“It feels really good,” Wallace says. “It brings more intensity to the rivalry and makes it all the better.”
“It was so mentally and emotionally draining,” Jaco says. “The Lakewood Ranch crowd got to us a few times, but we just had to show our will and fight to prove them wrong. It was intense all the way around.”
While Braden River reveled in its victory, the Lady Mustangs huddled together and began looking ahead to Oct. 3, when the two rivals will meet again.
“We don’t ever expect to lose to Braden River,” Lakewood coach Perri Hankins says. “It’s a rivalry game. It’s always a huge match, and you know going into it you’re in for temporary insanity for a couple hours. It’s just part of the game.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].