NEAR NORTH SIDE — The first time Lara Jung eyed the Principal's Cup, she thought it was a joke.
The Cup is a three-foot tall, almost comically giant gold-and-silver trophy awarded to the winner of an annual girls basketball game between the state's top two academic high schools — Walter Payton College Prep and Northside College Prep.
Two years ago, when the Grizzlies and Mustangs contended in the inaugural Cup clash, Jung couldn't believe the size of the trophy.
"When we saw it being brought into the gym, we were thinking: 'This is just for one game; it's not even a tournament'," said Jung, of Lakeview, a senior at Payton who has played on the varsity squad for three years.
Northside won the first game 35-19 two seasons ago, but Payton returned the favor during the 2012-13 campaign with a 40-34 victory. The Principal's Cup now rests in Payton's trophy case, where it stands a few inches taller than the adjacent IHSA fourth-place state trophy the school's girls volleyball team recently won.
Whether it will remain in its current home for another school year will be determined Thursday, when Payton hosts Northside at 4:30 p.m. And the players, coaches and spectators will have full view of the trophy throughout the game because it sits atop the scorer's table during the entire tilt.
"We want to make sure people notice it," said fifth-year Payton coach Josh Greenberg, of Andersonville. "It's this big cup, and it's an attention grabber."
Greenberg said the girls hoops programs at both schools pooled a few hundred dollars together to buy the trophy two years ago.
It's called the Principal's Cup because the principal of the host school awards the winning team the trophy after the game's conclusion. The honor this year will go to Payton Principal Tim Devine, who had been an acclaimed teacher at Northside before he was hired by Payton in 2011.
"Part of its origin was that I had been a founding member of the faculty at Northside and served there for 12 years and then I assumed the principal's job at Payton, so the coaches, who know each other and me quite well, thought it would be fun to commemorate the rivalry with a trophy," Devine said via email.
"It's about the size of the Stanley Cup," he said.
The girls basketball rivalry — which dates to 2000 when Payton was founded (Northside was founded in 1999) — has an additional wrinkle this season: First-year Northside girls basketball head coach Henry Henderson held the same position at Payton from 2003-06.
"The games are always fiercely contested. At Payton, I knew it was the one game on the schedule the girls could get up for because they were feeling they were playing a school similar to them athletically and academically, and similar in size."
Greenberg, who sports a 2-4 record against Northside, said the best part of the Principal's Cup game is watching student-athletes who are "so bright and athletically talented as well."
"Like us, Northside is a very rigorous school, so how these students are able to balance school and sports is very impressive," Greenberg said.
Jung considers the rivalry "friendly," but she also takes the game quite seriously. She vividly recalled watching victorious Northside players taking a team photo with the Cup on Payton's court in 2011. So when Payton won at Northside's gym, Jung said the Grizzlies made they sure they reciprocated.
"They took a picture, so we decided to take one," Jung said.
Jung, who has narrowed her college choices to Virginia, Michigan, Illinois and Yale, also likes the game's extra material meaning.
"It's nice to walk away with a trophy, even if it's ridiculously large," she said.