Not much changes in the 12 miles between the staked-off sections of Upland and Marion, Ind. The scenery seems the same, many faces will be familiar in both locations and each is sometimes defined by the academic institution residing there.
But the contrasts between those two colleges are as stark as their red and purple colors.
Those differences may be harder to spot in their evangelical mission statements, but when it comes to athletics, Indiana Wesleyan and Taylor universities have no intentions of turning the other cheek.
“Obviously you hate to lose, but especially to Taylor, it’s just way worse,” said IWU tennis player Kyle Johnson (jr). “Especially going to Taylor. I hate going to Upland.”
That disdain extends from the players’ bench to the coaches’ desks.
“Nobody can wear purple on Taylor day,” said volleyball coach Candace Moats. “Even in the [athletic] office, if you have purple on during someone going and playing Taylor, you get razzed for it. We’re all aware of when the Taylor matches happen for each sport.”
This particular rivalry is not only good for some highly competitive matches, but program unity as well.
“Everybody joins together. At that time, we’re not an individual team, when anyone has a Taylor game, it’s like everybody’s got the mindset, ‘We are going to go beat Taylor, even though it might just be volleyball.’” Moats added. “It’s a cohesive thing that draws us all together and makes us a united force.”
That united IWU force enjoys a current streak of success against its county rival. Since the start of the 2007 academic year, the Wildcats are 94-55-1 in head-to-head sporting events against the Trojans, including streaks of 11-0 by the women’s tennis team, 7-1 in women’s soccer and 13-2 from the women’s basketball team. The men’s cross country team leads the way on men’s side with a 6-1 mark since 2007. Of these sports, the Trojans only hold the advantage in baseball during that span.
But what makes these two schools such bitter rivals?
“Being close to them; there’s just something about them, maybe it’s the purple or something,” Johnson said.
“When you look at the two institutions that are so like-minded; we’re in the same league,” Moats said. “It’s ‘who owns Grant County?’”
Others, like IWU men’s basketball coach Greg Tonagel, say much of the intensity is situational.
“I think it has more to do with where they’re at in the league,” Tonagel said after the Wildcats’ most recent win over Taylor Jan. 14. “It’s so early in the league right now, it’s still intense, but I think if both teams are at the top or both teams are in the middle it probably means a little bit more.”
Either way, it’s hard for the Wildcats to escape the feeling of a larger target on their backs when they play the school just up Route 15.
“I feel like everybody when we play them brings their a-game,” Johnson said. “It’s that way across the conference, everybody wants to beat us, especially Taylor really enjoys beating us, but hopefully we enjoy beating them more.”