NORMAN — In many ways, Crosstown Clash soccer is the same for everybody.
For everybody, it’s not a district game and it’s not a playoff game, even though, in the moment, it may feel bigger than both.
For everybody, it’s a barometer, a report card and a road map. Because the next time Norman High or Norman North fails to put a quality soccer team on the pitch will be the first time.
Thus, if you want to understand your strengths and weaknesses better than you did when you woke up in the morning, play a Crosstown Clash and you’re bound to know more before you get back to sleep.
But it’s different for North. And it’s really different for the North boys.
NHS boys (2-0) and girls (4-1) coaches Gordon Drummond and Tyler Hardage think much the same thing about Clash soccer. Both believe their team can win today at Oklahoma John Crain Field, the girls kicking off at 6 p.m. and the boys at 8. Yet, more than that, both know they’ll be the better for simply playing the game, win or lose.
“We’ve been able to finish the last two games we’ve been in,” Drummond said. “Now we’re facing a team with great offensive skill and we need to see how we stand up to that. It’s going to demand a great deal of composure.”
And, the thing is, Drummond really wants to know. If his team stands up to the challenge, he’ll chart a course going forward. If his teams falls short, he’ll chart a course going forward. Both courses, should everything come together, might land the Tigers in the state title game. In many ways, today can only help.
Hardage speaks of the “opportunity” tonight affords. Of course, he’d rather win, but the night isn’t wholly tied up in the result.
“It’s just a great opportunity to put our players in a situation that carries a lot of weight,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity it see how the players react when pressure is high and emotion is high.”
That stuff works for North, too. Still, for both sets of Timberwolves, there’s more going on.
A year ago, the North girls fell to Edmond Memorial. That meant they were on the road the second week of the playoffs, a game they lost at Putnam City North. Rother believes his squad can win a state title this season or, at least, advance beyond round eight where his season ended last year.
That means staying home the first two weeks of the playoffs, which demands winning a district crown, which demands beating Memorial in the regular season, which, sort of, demands beating Norman High tonight, because who wants to come back from spring break to play Memorial coming off a Crosstown Clash loss?
“If you play this game and win, it’s a boost,” Rother said. “And our most difficult game of the season is probably our first game after spring break, against Edmond Memorial, so it’s even more important for us to have as much momentum as we can going into that game.”
Winning the Clash can seem like everything, but it can also be a stepping stone. The North girls want it to be a stepping stone.
Enter the North boys (1-1), who are coming off a home-field shootout loss to Broken Arrow.
Or, the NORTH BOYS!
Because that’s what it’s like when you’re the defending state champ and the defending (albeit kind of mythical) national champ.
On the pitch, North is Sooner football and one loss matters and two losses are unthinkable. When you’re used to being at the very top, there’s more to lose.
Coach Geo Claros understands.
“A lot of the things the other coaches say are true, because we haven’t lost anything in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “But it’s been a long time since we’ve lost to (NHS) and we want to get back on track … It’s a game we have to have. I don’t think any of us can remember the last time we were on a two-game losing streak.”
Claros, speaking on Monday, before practice, even said “I wish the game was tonight because I’ve had just a terrible taste in my mouth all weekend.”
It is the price of perennial greatness. Every game can seem like a referendum on every thing. After a loss, pressure only elevates.
It’s a big game for everybody. For everybody, it is big for some of the same reasons.
But it’s different for North.
Follow me @clayhorning