The cross country teams from Lick Wilmerding and University battled once again during a recent meet at Golden Gate Park. (Photo courtesy of Dave Maltz)
This article was updated Nov. 27 to re-correct photo credits.
GOLDEN GATE PARK -- Deep in the heart of the concrete jungle that is San Francisco -- between its sprawling roads and collection of buildings -- is the home of a cross country rivalry between two small, private Division V schools, Lick Wilmerding and San Francisco University High.
The origin point of the rivalry stretches back until the beginning of the late 1980s, when both the boys and girls team battled each other for league titles, and has ebbed and flowed over the years. Starting in 1994-1995 was when the momentum first began to shift, teetering heavily in favor of University.
University would go on an incredible run, winning 18 consecutive Bay Area Conference West (BCL-W) titles on the boys side from 1994 to 2011 and 10 consecutive BCL-W titles on the girls side 1995 to 2004, while en route to establishing themselves as one of the elite Division V schools in California.
The University girls have thoroughly dominated, evident in their 10 CIF State championships. For a while, the rivalry was one-sided.
But this decade has seen a resurgence from the Lick Wilmerding program, producing some of the most intense moments of the rivalry. Lick has won four BCL-W titles on the boys side and five on the girls side in the 2010s.
"It's really been back-and-forth for awhile now," Lick boys coach Jeff Gardiner said. "Even like the last four or five years, we've flipped back-and-forth."
University High, a private school founded in 1975 with an enrollment just over 400, is located near the tip of the San Francisco peninsula, on the southeastern corner of The Presido, not far from tourist destinations like the Golden Gate Bridge and almost directly west of famously crooked Lombard Street and iconic Coit Tower.
Lick Wilmerding, a private school dating to 1895, is located directly south of University HS by roughly seven miles, and in the middle of the peninsula between Lake Merced and Hunters Point. Lick, which has been located at its current site since 1955, has an enrollment around 525.
Currently, the rivalry between the two cross country programs may feature its most intriguing showdown between the girls teams.
Take the 2017 CIF-North Coast Section Championships for example, when both teams tied for first place at 62 points apiece. Lick barely won on a tiebreaker, 27-29, with senior Maggie Drew beating University freshmen Lucy Hurlbut by 2.10 seconds.
"I think 2017 was probably the most intense it's ever been," University coach Carrin Marrs said. "I kept telling our kids, 'This is a really good movie that you're watching. You win, you lose. And then what do you do that the State Meet?' We were second at the State Meet, and beat them in the final race of the year.
"We talk about it nearly every day at practice about how what we're doing today is going to support working toward catching one more girl in their (Lick's) pack, or something like that."
Last year there were no NCS Championships due to air-quality issues, so there was no opportunity for a rematch in on the section championship course at Hayward. The rematch would come at Fresno at the State Championships, which saw the Lick girls (97) win their first title as a school. University (188) placed fifth.
In this interview from the 2018 State Meet, Lick senior Alison Savage Brooks discusses the team's title:
The rivalry is not all about wins and losses. The competitive nature of the two teams
elevates the performances of those involved -- they help one another improve.
"I think it's fun," Lick girls coach Cyntia Salazar said. "It has made both of our teams a lot stronger than they've been in the past, and we love to see it. I think they really push each other during the race."
"Now they can see how the pack-running of our team and University's teams has really taken them to another level," Gardiner added.
The most recent installment of the rivalry came Nov. 8 at the BCL-W Championships at Golden Gate Park. The Lick girls beat University 28-40 with senior Mira Terdiman leading the way in 18:52, winning her fourth consecutive league individual title.
Terdiman (on the right in the inserted Dave Maltz photo) is a four-year varsity runner, meaning she's been immersed in a battle with University for her entire prep career.
"I think the rivalry has made our team really good at pack running and learning how to work together," Terdiman said. "When you're competing against a team that's as strong as University's team, it becomes really important for that teamwork aspect to kind of shine through. I think that's made us better."
"And I think it's always fun to have a competitive rival because it gives you a little something extra to run for in the races -- I think that inherently makes our team better too. It's definitely made our team a lot stronger and more competitive."
The girls get a chance to avenge the league loss on Saturday in the NCS Championships at Hayward, where the teams stand a legitimate chance to finish first and second in the Division V race.
On the boys side at BCL-W's, University beat Lick easily 30-62. Seniors Charlie Kennedy (16:36) and Clay Mills (16:48) finished first and third, respectively. The pair were unable to race last year at the league championships due to injuries, but have since regained their health and running form.
Like Terdiman with Lick, both Kennedy and Mills are four-year varsity runners and have ample experience in the rivalry. (Charlie Kennedy photo at right from the Mt. SAC Invitational by Lizette Adams)
"We want to beat these guys," Kennedy said. "And they want to beat us. We go at it every day, and we make each other better -- no matter if we realize it or not."
This year, the University boys hold the edge in the rivalry. They're one of the top teams in the NCS for Division V and should easily qualify for the State Meet.
Following his final league race, Mills was reflecting on a moment that epitomized the rivalry and what it's all about. It included a teammate, Lick sophomore Alex Mader, and Urban of San Francisco High sophomore Nick Miller.
"Me, Alex, Nick Miller and Charlie, one of us would jump out front, the other would come out, another one would jump out front -- it was just a rotation. Working together, working against each other. But we just speed up so fast and shot on the straightaway at the end, it was awesome."