SAN DIEGO — Geographically, Bishop's School and La Jolla High School are one-half mile apart. That alone is usually sufficient to stimulate a healthy rivalry in high school sports.
When the sport is girls' tennis, the rivalry goes beyond geography. It would not, in fact, make much difference if one of these schools were in San Ysidro and the other were in Fallbrook.
Shared excellence also stimulates these rivals.
La Jolla, for example, has won San Diego Section championships in nine of the last 10 years. This would seem to indicate a one-sided rivalry, and it might be in that sense. However, Bishop's has finished second in eight of those 10 years, seven times to La Jolla.
La Jolla, a public school with an enrollment of 1,304 in grades 10-12, has found itself relentlessly pursued by its smaller neighbor, a private school with an enrollment of 358 in grades 9-12.
When these teams last met, in fact, Bishop's swept the doubles matches to win, 4 1/2-4, on Oct. 6. It was Bishop's sixth victory over La Jolla in this 10-year span. It's just that none have come in the section finals.
"This rivalry is caused by La Jolla being a bigger school and always beating us in the finals," said Branaca Elsberry, a sophomore at Bishop's. "Because they
have more people, they are able to field a deeper team."
Maybe Bishop's was just a
little deeper in that earlier meeting.
When they met Oct. 6, one of La Jolla's No. 2 doubles players, Paige Patridge, was held out of doubles because of tendinitis in her right wrist. Coach Sue Graves feared Patridge might have had to default had she tried to play.
"We didn't have our No. 2 player playing doubles, and that makes a difference," said Graves, who is in her second year at La Jolla. "I didn't want her to default in doubles because I couldn't take a chance at losing doubles, which we did anyway."
If Patridge's absence really was the difference, La Jolla may be in a position to reverse that defeat when the teams meet again Friday at Bishop's at 3 p.m. Patridge is expected to play doubles.
According to Graves, the importance of beating the other team isn't quite a "win at all costs" situation.
"I don't think there's anything that's bitter," Graves said. "It's just a fun rivalry. I know they want to win, but I don't think that they want to win at all costs. They want to win fairly, and they want to win playing the best they could possibly play on that day."
Bishop's has that added incentive to beat a much larger school. Bishop's is a 1-A school in most sports, but it is 2-A in tennis. La Jolla is 2-A in all sports.
"By our standards, they are a large school," said Bishop's Coach Bill Scott, who is in his 10th year there.
"I think the rivalry is a natural one," said Elsberry, noting the proximity of the schools. "A lot of the students at Bishop's and a lot of the students at La Jolla are friends."
That does not explain why such a small area has such a monopoly on girls' tennis in San Diego County.
"Obviously, the socioeconomic area has a lot to do with it," Scott said. "The students here get a lot more lessons than, say, El Cajon High School. That makes a huge difference. Also, we have a tennis program at Bishop's where the seventh- and eighth-graders take lessons. That just makes a huge difference."
Kim Khoury, a senior at La Jolla, agrees.
"Tennis is just a big part of the community," said Khoury, 17. "Tennis is a kind of a game of opportunity. Unless you have incredible drive, you need a little bit of (financial) help. People in La Jolla have had the chance more than other kids have."
Graves credits the parents.
"I believe the parents get involved," she said. "A lot of parents have the time in La Jolla. They can afford private lessons. They can afford their own professionals. I really believe that's the answer. Many of the best kids come from homes where the parents play. That's true with most of my kids."
Added Patridge: "Tennis is the thing to do in La Jolla. I know if I don't go out and play tennis, I start hearing it from my parents. I have friends who get in trouble for not playing. I had to pick between tennis and a job. My parents said take tennis as a job."
Joy Saris, a junior at La Jolla, transferred from Bishop's after playing there for two years.
"Both coaches are always talking about the other," she said. "They're always trying to find out ways to beat each other. The players, too. That's like the biggest match. I think that both of the teams are pretty much even.
"I was friends with almost everyone on the team there. It was kind of weird for me because I knew them all really well. We all know each other just from the town."
Players from each team often see each other at tennis camps, clinics, the beach and around town. Pam Brown, one of Bishop's No. 2 doubles players, lives 10 houses away and on the same street as Tara Walsh, one of La Jolla's No. 2 doubles players. Elsberry and Patridge have twice met in the finals of tournaments at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. Patridge won both times.
Khoury, who has been playing No. 1 singles for three years, has played against Bishop's seven times. La Jolla has won five of those meetings. The other loss was the first meeting last year.
"We're not used to losing," Khoury said. "We're pretty much primed to win that (Bishop's) match."