There are over 430,000 student-athletes recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Every morning, those hundreds of thousands of student-athletes hear the immoral sounds of their alarm clocks. It’s 6:53 a.m. and the world doesn’t need to turn yet. Weekends. Weekdays. Sometimes holidays. They hit the snooze button and pray for those seven minutes to crawl at a snail’s pace. 7:00. Snooze again. 7:02. 7:06.
Behind closed eyes is a body at rest, a body desperately reaching for an uncharacteristic, early morning surge of vigor, the necessary energy to peel the snug covers off of a pair of aching and contused legs. The first thought is how to swing those legs off the side of the bed and allow their feet to touch the floor. The second thought is standing. The third thought is moving, and the fourth is the severity of the consequence of retreating back below those cavernous sheets and remaining there until the rest of the world wakes up. But a lap for every minute they’re late? They grudgingly get out of bed.
For me, every sluggish wake-up is followed by the same commute to a quiet locker room. En route, I see the same sights everyday. A large coffee warms my palms the same way on the same bus every morning. Everyday I enter the same locker room and pull the same reversible jersey off of my laundry loop, put on the same pair of turf shoes and stretch the same muscles after an identical jog-shuffle-sprint combination. It’s August and it’s April and it’s October. It’s sweltering hot outside and it’s bitter cold. It’s midterm week and it’s fall break.
It’s preseason. It’s mid-season. The off-season tells you one thing: There is no off-season. Every day of the year, 430,000 student-athletes wake wearily, walk slowly and wait for the first whistle or wind sprint. We train for weekend home games, road games and night games and ready ourselves one day at a time. We start thinking about Friday night games at the final whistle of the game five days prior. Game Friday, game Sunday. Football has its Saturday game ritual, week after week after week. Baseball has its 56-game grind.
Routines are inevitable; everything becomes a routine. Eating and sleeping. Playing. Watching video footage. Synchronizing set-pieces. The ability to develop a routine without slipping into complacency distinguishes the bad teams from the good teams and the good from the great. The season, the off-season—they are both an unending battle. Practices become a series of blurred episodes, teams march on in the same cadence immediately after both victory and after defeat. The pace is grueling and the days grind on—until you remember what you are grinding for. It is the holy grail of your season: the unparalleled thrill of a rivalry game.
Rivalry doesn’t care if you are a Division I athlete or a junior varsity third-string lineman. Rivalry doesn’t care if you are a forward or a goalkeeper or a quarterback, a designated hitter or a power forward. Rivalry doesn’t care if you have three papers due tomorrow, or if you and your boyfriend broke up. What matters to rivalry is passion. What matters to rivalry is heart, and heart isn’t measured by minutes in the book, points on the board or runs batted-in. Heart fuels rivalry. Without heart, each game is just another game. Without rivalry, what do the colors of your jersey or the words emblazoned on your chest matter? Without rivalry, the magic of college athletics is lost.
Rivalry exists everywhere. It is overtly evident and never attempts to hide itself. The Subway Series. Army vs. Navy. Lakers vs. Celtics. Rivalries are born and raised to be mammoth moments. They garner a certain greatness unattained by any other matchups, and perhaps the greatest rivalry of all exists at all of our fingertips: that between your very own Duke University Blue Devils and the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina.
This peculiar rivalry transcends Tobacco Road and branches far beyond the benches in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Every Duke athlete is cognizant of the changes in pregame preparation when we’re taking on a Tar Heel team that day—but it’s beyond the confines of the field too where rivalry perpetuates. It’s the families, it’s the fans, the students—these are the ones whose hearts and unbridled pride in Blue Devil athletics aid in felling the villains that visit from eight miles away.
Tonight, the Duke Field Hockey team takes on the number one-ranked UNC Tar Heels at 6 p.m. on our home field on East Campus. My teammates and I have diligently prepared for tonight with the same focus and passion that any Duke team would. Tonight, 12 girls will represent your University in another chapter of this extraordinary rivalry. This match means the same to us as the game you camp in Krzyzewskiville for months to attend. It is our greatest rivalry, and it is what we wake up for everyday. Tonight, we ask for your support, your presence and your synchrony in shouting proudly: Go to Hell, Carolina.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Friday. You can follow Ashley on Twitter @camano4chron.