The hottest high school athletic competitions tend to start with geography and combined conference membership.
Most but not all.
Look into the near future, and it’s easy to see the potential for a new and intense rivalry between boys’ soccer to form, based on the IHSAA’s partial realignment taking effect in the fall and lasting at least two years.
Penn High is located in Mishawaka, a 61-mile drive east of Chesterton High. The Kingsmen play in the Northern Indiana Conference, and the Trojans in the Dunland Athletic Conference.
When the IHSAA released its divisional list, which in football featured Chesterton and Merrillville relegated from 6A to 5A, it was easy to conclude that Chesterton would play in the football division with LaPorte, Michigan City and Valparaiso.
The boys’ 3A soccer sectional realignment proved nowhere near easy to predict. In fact, it came as a shock when it was revealed that the Trojans would be in a department with Ben and not in the same region as their neighbor Valparaíso or the Congress rival the Crown Prince.
Joining Penn and Chesterton are Laporte, Michigan City, New Prairie, South Bend Adams and South Bend Riley.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” said CHS Athletic Director Jeff Hamstra.
“Amazed,” Chesterton Football Coach Lucas Sabedra said. “It felt like we had heard a little something before it was announced, but it shocked everyone in the area: I, the head coaches from Valpo, Crown Point. All the South Bend coaches were all very surprised too, so no one heard anything about the change.”
Sapidra said he never asked anyone for an explanation.
“No, what are you saying at the time?” He said. “It is already over. It is already in print.”
Sabedra has responded to the news with the way he handles each challenge in front of his team. I embraced her.
“It’s just a change. I think the rivalry that we have with Crown Point and Valpo, it’s going to be taken out of the equation. These are very emotional games, and that’s always an obstacle that you have to overcome,” Sapidra said. Just different. The competitive level to play against a school like Ben, if we ever draw them and play them, they’ll be pretty good too. So you have to expect to play for one of the best teams in the state.”
It didn’t put Sabedra Penn in that category on a permanent basis.
He said, “Always.” “Always.”
The schools played a 1-1 draw in Chesterton last fall. Sabedra said he has discussed the reorganization with Eric Bowers, Penn’s coach since 2010.
“We know each other very well. We talked a lot before and after matches and we were shocked by the bombing for this to happen,” said Sabedra. “It’s exciting because we’ve already added them to the table. You add a layer of competition there and you get to know them a little bit more. Like last year, we hooked them up, and if we played them in the clip, we’d know when we got into the game how strong that was. This could have been a match that was both. Both teams will really attend to it.”
Sabedra always speaks confidently when discussing his players’ abilities, and seems to make his way into competing athletes armed with a strong belief that they will come out ahead. In four seasons at the helm of his college boys’ soccer program, Sabedra accumulated an overall record of 77-5-12 and a mark of 27-1 in DAC games played in the regular season.
A year ago at this time, on the outside, we naturally suspected the Trojans were in a downturn after winning two state championships in Sapidra’s first three seasons. After all, the Trojans would have had to survive in the elite without outstanding goalkeeper and claw kick specialist Charlie Eaton, goal-scoring machine Zach Bowser (40 goals) and standout Nick Bell, skilled facilitator, goal and destroyer. Forcing the opposing attackers.
Sabedra and his players kept their focus on who was coming back, not who was gone, and he played with high confidence, staying in control. The Trojans spent most of the season second in the state, going 17-2-1, and were one of the remaining four football teams, before losing to eventual state champion Noblesville, 5-0.
Thirteen seniors graduated, most notably Liam Grimes, Ryan O’Dell and Jacob Perkins. They played in harmony with the tireless efforts of the infectious.
Sapidra knew very well how this team would play. Nothing has changed.
“I feel the same way about this group. If everyone’s heads are on their shoulders, and they’re ready to go, and I know they’re going to do it, we always have a good group that comes back,” Sapidra said. If they are sophomores, so they know what all this means and how to prepare for it.”
Goalkeeper Ethan Boedeker returns for his second year as a starting player.
Other rookie seniors with extensive playing experience include Caden Donella, Matthew Guerrero, Gage Cropper, Josh Wadowski and Gage Torres Regner.
“Our upcoming juniors Jon Kovalan, Sebastian Coogle and Mason Bernal, have been very different from last year in the club’s seasons,” Sapidra said. “They play at a very competitive level and are the main player in their teams, so it’s all good.”
Michael Chomati scored a hat-trick on his league debut last season and led JV in scoring.
“We always have guys that train with the university all the time, so it won’t be new for them,” Sabedra said. “They just have to get over the nerves so early in the season.”