The competition within the Olympic Conference, in any sport, is rarely stale and is often electric.
Town rivalries are on the line. Regular season games result in jockeying for better postseason position.
And in order to reach the ultimate prize in most seasons – a state title – a team has to first get through what’s arguably the toughest conference in the state.
Shawnee and Seneca faced off in a girls’ soccer game last week in Medford, and following a first half when neither team scored, the match reached a fever pitch. Shawnee’s veteran midfielder was flying all over the turf. Seneca’s senior goalie was yelling loud enough for the people back in Shamong to hear.
“I know when we play Cherokee and Shawnee, my mindset is totally different,” said the Seneca goalie, three-year starter Lexi Dooley. “I’m completely focused, ultra-focused even before the game.”
“There’s a challenge every day and you know you have to bring your best, every game,” Shawnee midfielder Tori Yost said of conference games. “Sure it’s fun to win 6-0, but it’s better to have those 2-1, 2-0 games against the hard teams, the ones you really fought for to get the outcome.”
Yost and the Renegades eventually beat Seneca 2-0. Dooley, who made a handful of highlight reel-worthy saves in the contest, is glad the next time she and Yost share the pitch, they’ll be wearing the same uniform.
Lenape Regional School District rivals for the last four years, Dooley and Yost are joining forces next year in Philadelphia. They both committed to continue their soccer careers at Drexel University.
“It’s a big deal,” Dooley said. “I really think being in the city will be a huge adjustment, and of course with Division-I soccer, it’ll be so different. So to have somebody I know, it’s going to be easier to adjust.”
And it’ll be easier to find a ride from the city back to the pines, too.
“It’s nice to know we’re coming from the same area,” Yost said, “knowing our surroundings and going somewhere new that’s completely different from where we’ve grown up.”
Despite growing up not far from each other – Dooley actually lives closer to Shawnee than Seneca – the soccer duo has never played together. Not in youth soccer. Not in club or Player Development Academy soccer, where they had squared off in scrimmages. And, of course, not in high school.
They may fight for loose balls off corner kicks and sacrifice their limbs in scrums to help give their teams the slightest edge, but Yost and Dooley share a mutual respect for each other’s game.
“Her intensity, the entire time, during a game,” Yost said.
“I was going to say the same exact thing,” Dooley added with a laugh.
During a clinic at Drexel this summer the pair finally got to wear the same colors and know each other a little better, too.
“I was like, ‘Wow, she’s so intense,’” Dooley said. “I mean, I knew it. And I was scared of her for a little bit. But I realized it wasn’t the person she was, it was just the way she played. And it was so strong and intense. It drew my eye.”
Yost and Dooley settled on Drexel for similar reasons: They were drawn to the city. The opportunity to play D-I soccer not far from home but also far enough to enjoy the urban college lifestyle was too enticing to pass up.
“There’s so much to do,” Yost said. “I didn’t want to be at a college in the middle of nowhere. I like how there’s so much to do and afterward, there are so many opportunities with job placement. And the soccer program is really good. It was really welcoming. I knew it was where I wanted to be.”
“The co-op program definitely drew me in,” Dooley said. “I want to go into environmental science and meteorology. So I knew that Drexel was the best science option that I had. And the city, I’m literally obsessed with the city, I’m so happy and knew if I didn’t go (to a school in the city) I’d regret it.”
Barring an unforeseen postseason matchup following the truncated 2020 regular season – Seneca and Shawnee are normally in different groups – Dooley and Yost won’t face off in high school again. When they do hit the turf again, it’ll be together, in blue and gold, 26 miles away as Drexel Dragons.
“She’s my goalie,” Yost said of her high school rival, “and she has my back.”