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Wildcat rivalry tensions elevate performance

Lars Gustafson

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Chico State’s Drew Kitchens faces a Cal State L.A. opponent in a game on Jan. 30 at Acker Gym. Photo credit: Caio Calado

Sports rivalries are without a doubt one of the most exciting aspects of sports.

Whether the San Francisco 49ers are playing the Seattle Seahawks or the Los Angeles Lakers are battling the Boston Celtics, rivalry games are played with bragging rights on the line.

Here is a look at some of the Wildcats’ biggest rivals in sports from the perspective of the athletes who play in them.

Drew Kitchens

Position: Forward Year: Sophomore Sport: Basketball Major: Finance

What are the biggest rivalries with other schools for men’s basketball?

I would say first off that as a competitor, I really don’t like any team we play. Since I have been at Chico State, our rivals have also changed in recent years. I would say that our biggest rivals are Humboldt State, Sonoma State, Cal State Stanislaus and Cal Poly Pomona.

How does the level of play in games against rivals change?

The level of play is definitely elevated when you are playing against a rival. Both teams have the game circled on the calendar so you know you are going to get their best shot. They are the best games to play in.

How does the physicality of the game change in rivalry games?

The level of physicality is elevated. Both teams are more aggressive, more physical and more pumped up.

Do you have any opponents that you have a personal rivalry with?

UC San Diego. I grew up in San Diego and played in that gym growing up so every time I get the opportunity to play them, it adds some fuel to the fire.

What are some of the best battles you have been in with a rival?

One of the best battles I can remember was definitely last year’s NCAA West Region Championship game against Cal State Stanislaus. Hard to forget about that one. Also, every time we play Pomona, I remember those games because win or lose, it is an extremely physical and even match.

Clayton Gelfand

Position: Pitcher Year: Sophomore Sport: Baseball Major: Business management

Why are Sonoma State and UC San Diego the biggest rivals for Chico State baseball?

Sonoma State has always been our biggest rival. We’re always two of the top teams in the CCAA, and it’s just one of those teams you want to beat just a little bit more than all the others. I think it’s because we are two good NorCal teams and always give each other hard-fought games. We played UCSD eight times last year, and I believe we split the series 4-4. We are two very good ball clubs and two respected teams. You know you’re going to get the best of every player when it’s University of San Diego versus Chico State. The reason they would be considered a big rival would be because of last year’s regional. We had to play them twice in regionals, and we beat them both times to send (our team) to the World Series. I’d say there is still bad blood between us because we beat them when it mattered last year.

As a pitcher, do you have any individual rivalries with batters?

Being a pitcher, there may be people I don’t like, but not a single person I’d consider my individual rival. I like to pitch with the attitude that everyone I face is my rival, and that gives me a competitive edge over my competitor.

Do you have any personal experiences of great pitching battles?

There are certain guys I’d rather get out than others, and those guys are typically friends. For example, I played summer ball with the Sonoma State shortstop Jourdan Weiks. Although he is a buddy, I don’t want him to get a hit against me. It makes it more fun when the at bat is personal.

How does the level of intensity heat up against teams like UC San Diego or Sonoma State?

Our week prior is much more focused because we know we have to bring it if we want to come out on top. Teams like that take advantage of mistakes and will execute if we’re not applying constant pressure. We know there is pride on the line playing against those teams and everything is turned up a notch.

Brooke Bowen

Position: Forward Year: Junior Sport: Basketball Major: Business marketing

What are the biggest rivalries with other schools for women’s basketball?

I think I would have to say our biggest rivalry is Humboldt. It’s been a tradition each year. That game at home and even away, the gym is always packed with fans from both teams. There’s just always a lot of old history from the past with the rivalries between Chico and Humboldt.

How does the level of play in games against rivals change?

The emotions change. It becomes more personal. Every game is pretty personal, and you want to win, but rivalry games are extra important. You always want it just a little bit more than any other game you’ve played that season. The energy is always amazing and so up-tempo.

How does the physicality of the game change in rivalry games?

Everyone plays a lot more aggressive. You have the mind set of wanting it so badly that you step up and play as hard as you can.

Do you have any opponents that you have a personal rivalry with?

I don’t have a personal rivalry, only because I’ve only played one season here so far. But I feel like if I had played all four years here, I would have a personal rivalry for sure.

What are some of the best battles you have been in with a rival?

I think the first time we played Humboldt this season at home we had a great battle with them. And also when we beat UC San Diego at home we played an amazing game, and it felt so good to win that game — one of the best games we ever played as a team.

Lars Gustafson can be reached at [email protected] or @larsonsports on Twitter.

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Wildcat rivalry tensions elevate performance