Two of the most success athletics programs in the state are Marist and St. Pius X, two Atlanta private schools affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Tonight at St. Pius, the two old rivals will square off in a crucial match that will essentially decide the Area 4-AAAA-A title. Both teams enter the game 4-0 in area play and each has a win over second-place Lakeside-Evans, which is 2-2-1, making tonight's game a de facto area championship.
As if there wasn't enough already on the line.
The two schools have enjoyed a long-standing, competitive and intense rivalry in every area of competition, although some sports suffered when Pius left AAAA for AAA in 2008. For example, the schools have not met in football the past two seasons despite being traditionally one of the most heated rivalries in metro Atlanta.
"For us, beating St. Pius and winning the area is important, but our goals are the state tournament," said Marist coach Kelly Mandy. "And the area championship gives us the best chance in the tournament. Beating St. Pius is just the icing on the cake."
St. Pius X coach Peter Voorhees agrees that while the rivalry is big for both, his team is focused on more important goals.
"The area title is always important," said Voorhees. "But Marist-Pius is always a great rivalry in every sport."
Like many rivalries, the Marist-Pius affair typically matches kids who grew up competing with or against each other. Due to the relatively small lacrosse community in metro Atlanta, many of these players played in feeder programs against each other growing up. Now, they will suit up on opposite sides with the area title on the line. This familiarity could lead to an interesting battle tonight.
"It's always different when players grow up with their opponents," said Mandy.
Last season, Marist finished just 9-8, but gained a measure of satisfaction by defeating St. Pius X 12-4. However, Mandy knows the Lions are a different team this year.
"They've been in the top 10 all year long," said Mandy. "I definitely think they've improved (from last year). They have some good wins under their belt."
Like many other lacrosse coaches in Georgia, Mandy has an extensive background in basketball. She was the assistant girls hoops coach at Marist for 10 years prior to switching sports when lacrosse was added as a varsity sport by the GHSA in 2005.
"There are a lot of similarities to basketball, like the drills that we run" said Mandy. "So it was easy to transition to the sport."
"If you look at basketball, it is the same as lacrosse except we're outdoors and on grass," said Voorhees.
Unlike his Marist counterpart, however, Voorhees had a background in lacrosse prior to his current gig. While at the Air Force Academy, Voorhees played intramural lacrosse. Later in his life, Voorhees saw his three kids pick up the sport.
Now, the two coaches will match their teams up on the field in perhaps the biggest game in each program's respective histories. Regardless of important state tournament games coming up for both sides, this one means a little extra - even if neither team will admit it.