A fan’s take on the Portland-Santa Clara rivalry project

Personal fandom is a tricky thing.

When I started following soccer, I came in through the usual gateway: the US Women’s National Team and UNC. I had no familial or regional ties in women’s soccer and hadn’t quite grasped whatever it was that keeps a family loyal to a particular school. I approached women’s soccer with the same voraciousness that I approached anything at that age, and I very quickly branched out beyond those starter teams. I feel pretty fortunate to have outgrown UNC as soon as I did, because I immediately wound up falling in love with Santa Clara. This turned out to be my team, the one that I realized I was going to stick with through thick and thin, not just because they had umpteen-odd national championships.

I’ve never been to the Bay Area. I don’t have any family in California. SCU doesn’t have a football team, so most people I run into don’t even know this school exists. I have had to build this fannishness myself, and I have had to sustain it in isolation. Through injuries, through missing the postseason, through transfers and suspensions. Through a good friend’s Portland Pilots obsession. I realize that I lose credit for not being born into it and not being on the right coast. I might as well be following UC Irvine, right?

What initially drew me to the Broncos was the style of play. I look at the way Marian Dalmy and Leslie Osborne hit the field, and in my mind, that is SCU soccer. It’s tough and graceful, sometimes broken and sometimes triumphant.  The roster from those first couple of years that I was following are still larger than life for me. Most other 20-something fans of women’s soccer have the 91ers and 1999 with the USWNT, but I have the early 2000s with Santa Clara. Julie Juarez is my Brianna Scurry.

What Julie said in her interview, about women’s soccer being a labor of love, is an echo of what you hear everywhere else. But that doesn’t make it less true. When Joan started the UP-SCU rivalry project, it was just an idea with a lot of possibilities–a lot of maybes and maybe-nots. We didn’t know how we were going to reach players or if they were going to respond. But as you can see, things fell into place, snowballed, and here we are.

With interviews on both sides of the rivalry, I have learned a lot more about my team. To be honest, I’ve felt sort of out of touch with them this year. There are 12 freshmen, few ways for me to catch up on the game, and the occasional reminder that the last group of rookies that I let myself get really attached to have (mostly) graduated. Although I had joked about it after our interview with Julie–about how I sort of feel like I’m in one of those cultures where the infant mortality rate is so high that children aren’t named until a week or year old so the parents don’t get too attached–the distancing really hit home when we talked to Maxine.

This project has turned me back around, let me bring that extra energy from my earlier years as a fan and tie them to the present team. It’s still Santa Clara. I don’t have to worry about trades or whether the Broncos are going to fold. I can joke about injuries and I know there is the occasional transfer, but the great thing about Santa Clara is the consistency of character and style, the continual fight without undue or unchallenged dominance. No matter what, I’ve never had a boring season with the Broncos.

When Santa Clara hosts Portland on Sunday, it’s not going to be like other years. We have heard over and over again from the players that they were mostly aware of the rivalry before they picked their school, but they didn’t grasp the depth of it until that match-up their freshman year and finding the atmosphere changed, just because of this game.

For the Broncos this year, twelve freshmen, whether on the bench or on the field, are going to experience that for the first time.

I am seriously excited for them, no matter what the outcome.

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