WARSAW – The list of our top five teams for the Ink Free News All-IFN selections spawned several layers of conversation in developing our Team of the Year. Four of the five teams won at least one championship, were ranked in their respective sports and one even won a state championship. None of those four teams, however, were chosen as our top team. That designation goes to Triton football, which went through an incredibly tough season and persevered to put together one of the best seasons in program history.
5. New Boss, Old Attitude – The changing of the guard for Warsaw girls soccer didn’t seem to deviate anything from the team’s level of output. Warsaw reached the regional finals in the state tournament, an extension of the program’s ability to build for the present and the future.
Jon Hoover took over the program for the successful Pete Lucht, and Hoover immediately saw in his first high school coaching gig what his team was up against, and could do. Playing teams like a nationally-ranked Penn, state-ranked Hamilton Southeastern and Noblesville and a conference slate that was very formidable, Warsaw showed it belonged among the state’s conversation. In all, Warsaw went 14-5-3 and found itself in a familiar position, fighting Northridge on the regular season’s final game, for the Northern Lakes Conference title. The two teams tied 1-1, giving Ridge the title by a half-game, but Warsaw rebounded with two lopsided wins in the new Fort Wayne South sectional bracket, then used a hat trick from Brenna Buhrt in the final against Huntington North, including the golden goal in overtime, to win the team’s 10th sectional title.
Warsaw dropped a very tough McCutcheon team, 3-2, in the regional semis but fell victim to a 2-1 loss to Noblesville in the regional final, the second time Warsaw fell to the Millers on the season.
Where Warsaw should remain is within the statistics. Of the 82 goals that the Tigers scored on the season, all but five were scored by underclassmen, including 53 from sophomores Buhrt, Abby Steffensmeier and Delaney Taylor, which also assisted on 37 others. Steffensmeier by herself had 28 goals, just a couple off the all-time program record for goals in a season.
4. Back In Black – With all it lost following a regional championship campaign in 2017, NorthWood baseball had plenty of excuses to take a big step back this spring. Not only had the team lost a number of key players from that banner, 26-win season, but it had a new head coach in A.J. Risedorph, a former assistant who had stepped away from the program for two seasons. But instead of taking a rebuilding year, this year’s group maintained the lofty level of their program’s expectations.
NorthWood baseball reeled off a record of 22-5 in 2018, including an 11-3 finish in the Northern Lakes Conference that earned the Panthers conference co-championship honors, secured a sixth-straight sectional title in dominant fashion at the Lakeland Sectional, and finished the regular season ranked eighth in the Class 3A standings.
With a team batting average of .326 and a whopping 24 home runs over the course of the year, the NorthWood lineup proved a formidable one, and once they were on, the Panthers put pressure on opposing defenses with 46 stolen bases in 52 attempts on the way to 214 runs scored over the course of the season — an average of nearly eight runs a game. Defensively, they were solid, recording a team fielding percentage of .934. Pitching was equally steady, with a combined ERA of just 2.06. Alec Holcomb and Matt Dutkowski emerged as a pair of aces for the squad with seven wins apiece versus three combined losses, Dutkowski’s only blemish coming in a regional semifinal with Jay County. Their efforts earned both pitchers All-NLC honors alongside infielders Brant Mast and Brock Miller, while Payton Bear and Kyler Hauptli were both given honorable mention by the conference, highlighting a depth of talent on this year’s roster.
But as good as all those on-field efforts were, the team’s greatest performance came off the field, as the Panthers collected a total of nearly $11,500 partnering with the Jason Motte Foundation to battle cancer after senior players Hunter and Sawyer Warren lost sister-in-law Lauren to mesothelioma in February.
3. The Beat Goes On – The Warsaw girls track team did not miss a beat this Spring.
Or a championship for that matter.
The WCHS ladies, under the direction of first-year coach Megan Davis, continued impressive championship streaks. Warsaw piled up 187 points to easily outdistance runner-up Concord to claim its 13th straight Northern Lakes Conference Meet title. The Tigers then dominated their own sectional, scoring 167 points to race past second-place Concord for their 12th consecutive sectional crown. The team then tallied 83 points to outscore runner-up Penn to win the Kokomo Regional title, the program’s seventh straight regional championship.
Warsaw concluded its season by sending a strong contingent of competitors to the State Finals, including senior standouts Mia Beckham, Emma Bohnenkamper and Lexie Day. The list of State Finalists for coach Davis, herself a former member of the WCHS track program, also featured Angie Sanchez-Vijil, Adree Beckham, Remi Beckham, Maygan Bellamy, Carmen Yoder, Ashlynn Hepler, Abbi Curtis and Makayla Clampitt.
2. Wrestling With Success – Really, the only entity that defeated Wawasee’s wrestling team this season was influenza. The team suffered amongst the many during flu season and were hit hard at the wrong time, sapping the lineup during the Northern Lakes Conference tournament, but otherwise had a season for the ages.
The only blemish on the Wawasee team page in the record book for 2017-18 was a loss to Northridge, 32-29, in the Wawasee December Duals, when the Warriors were beginning a two-week push for the IHSWCA State Finals. The one loss was a sticking point, and unfortunately for Franklin County, Bellmont, North Montgomery and Garrett, they became blurs passing the Wawasee freight train in the Class 2-A Team State tournament, which Wawasee won for the first time in program history. Wrapping up the regular season 27-1 included dual wins against some very impressive names like Merrillville, South Bend St. Joe, LaPorte and a very memorable NLC dual win against Elkhart Memorial under the glare of one light in the Hardwood TeePee.
The flu, however, hit Wawasee harder than most of its opponents, knocking out three of its state-ranked competitors and an ACL injury took out another regular from the NLC tournament lineup. Wawasee still won three NLC titles and three runner-up spots, but were third in the team standings, leaving head coach Frank Bumgardner and his staff very perturbed.
The chip on the team’s shoulders would lend itself well in the IHSAA state tournament, as Wawasee won the sectional team championship, its 21st overall and first since 2010, and all 14 of its wrestlers qualified for the regional, four of which – Jace Alexander, Chris Schuller, Braxton Alexander and Damien Rodriguez – all won sectional titles. Jace Alexander won a regional title and eight others advanced to semi-state, where Alexander, Geremia Brooks and Elisha Tipping all made the state finals. Tipping took sixth at 285 and Brooks seventh at 132 to cap Wawasee’s fine season, one that had the Warriors ranked No. 1 in Class 2-A for the first time in nearly two decades and winners of five in-season tournaments.
1. 54 And Goals – Whenever Triton head football coach Ron Brown decides to hang up his coaching hat, whether in five years or 50, 2017 is a season he’ll remember. By turns thrilling and crushing, how could he not? But for all the memorable moments, it’s one that flew by.
“I can’t remember a single season that I’ve coached in that went so fast. It seems like we got to the end of the year, and I couldn’t believe it was the end of the year because literally it felt like you were just dealing with the season day-to-day,” recalled Brown. “It was a unique and strange season, and I think we were able to be successful because of all the people that rallied around us.”
Triton’s 2017 season was an indelible one for many reasons, some good and some bad but none worse than the tragic loss of two-way junior lineman Cam Scarberry to a car accident on Sept. 17. At 4-1, the Trojans had already doubled their win total from 2016 and were coming off a thrilling overtime win at Hoosier North Athletic Conference foe Culver Community when Scarberry’s young life was cut short on a Sunday in Etna Green. Still reeling from the tragedy, the Trojans had to go on the road that week to play No. 1-ranked and eventual unbeaten Class A state champion Pioneer, and although the Panthers showed their solidarity with their guests — wearing Scarberry’s No. 54 on their helmets, observing a moment of silence before the game while the scoreboard displayed 54 points for both teams with 5.4 seconds on the clock and gathering with the Trojans at midfield following the game — the outcome was a lopsided 62-8 loss for Triton.
Week 6 represented a crossroads for the Trojans: They could have phoned the rest of the season in, and no one could’ve possibly blamed them. But instead they rallied around their fallen teammate to win four of their next six games, tying a program-best of eight wins while setting numerous statistical records along the way.
“I think definitely it forced our kids to grow up quickly, and I think it shows how mature our seniors were and how much of a great, all-around leadership group that we had there. Drew Stichter, Lee Mullet, Tristan Young, Matt Hefner, Max Slusser, those kids, they stepped up big, and they were able to rally our guys and focus our team on the task at hand,” said Brown.
To wit, Triton’s many records in 2017 included program marks for points scored in a season (363) and in a single game (70 in the team’s season-opener with South Newton), first downs both in a single game (26) and across a season (189), single-game and season passing yards (383 and 1,990) and single-game and season total offensive yards (542 and 3,897). Junior quarterback Bo Snyder’s 114 completions for 1,985 yards and 23 touchdowns all set individual high marks, as did his 378 yards and four TDs in a single game. Junior wide receiver Delano Shumpert’s 44 receptions, 842 receiving yards and 14 TD catches also set Triton records, along with 10 catches and three receiving TDs in a single game, performances which ultimately garnered him an IFCA Junior All-State nomination. And Brandon Lenker’s 40 extra points kicked and 10 in a single game were also record-setting performances.
But the Trojans had a depth of other standout performances last fall that, while they may not have been record-setting performances of their own, made those numbers possible.
Tye Orsund finished with 26 catches for two TDs and 570 receiving yards, including 188 against North Judson-San Pierre in Week 7. Senior running back Max Slusser’s 146 carries for 873 yards and 12 TDs left him 12th on the program’s single-season leaders list, and his 1,031 all-purpose yards did likewise, while Orsund’s 936 all-purpose yards placed him 18th on the list. And at tight end, Stichter was a genuine receiving threat in his own right, all of which kept opposing defenses honest.
“I think it was the ability of the kids to buy into a philosophy of not being selfish, not looking at stats. Obviously some guys had some ridiculous numbers, but we explained to them in the beginning when I ran this offense at past schools, sometimes by the routes that you would run or the things that you would do, you wouldn’t get any yards or any credit, but it would open up other people. And if everyone bought into that, eventually you would have huge gains,” explained Brown.
“I think our success on offense had a lot to do with our kids paying attention and buying in, and of course it had a lot to do with (offensive coordinator) Rodney Younis focusing in every week and seeing what we could do against certain teams and what we were not able to do against certain teams. I think that speaks for our offensive success last year.”
Although the Trojans had concluded the 2016 season with a meager 2-9 mark and owned just four wins across Brown’s first two seasons at the helm of the program, the team had shown glimpses of what it would ultimately become. While 2017 may have caught some onlookers off-guard, no one within the program was exactly surprised by Triton’s success.
“I think it’s definitely a step-by-step process when you’re trying to build a program and you’re trying to set some standards. I felt like and my coaching staff felt like this was coming,” Brown said. “We kept seeing glimpses of the kids being very successful and having abilities to put themselves in situations to be successful. There’s always that hope that it’s going to manifest itself into positive results on the field. Last year we were actually able to see that. It was kind of expected, and I’m glad that these guys had the opportunity to feel that success, and hopefully they’ll build off it.”
At the close of the year, the Trojans had a number of post-season honors to show for their efforts. Along with Shumpert’s IFCA All-State nod, Snyder, Orsund, Shumpert and tackle Conner Ousley all garnered All-State Honorable Mentions by the Associated Press. Brown himself was nationally recognized as one of the finalists in the “Coaches Making a Difference” contest sponsored by the Rose Bowl and the National Football Foundation, after Triton football alum Nate Spangle nominated him. Now a junior defensive back at DePauw, Spangle’s new athletic department even made the Trojans a highlight video, which you can view here.
The national recognition wasn’t something Brown expected, and he expressed gratitude to Spangle, who he remembers as a hard-worker and a special player. But Brown maintains relationships with other alumni, too, and those relationships hint at a deep bond among program members, a bond that likely has a lot to do with the Trojans’ recent success.
“I think when it comes to coaching and when it comes to education, it’s all about relationships and being honest,” Brown explained. “It’s a big belief of mine that kids are not commodities: You don’t use them to get where you want to go or to be successful. You coach and you pour time into them because you enjoy it, and you want them to be successful. Kind of the philosophy that we’ve taken for the last few years now is that we’re going to do all the little things right, and winning is finally going to take care of itself.”