FORTVILLE — Upon sending a game-winning field goal through the uprights to beat Delta, as he did two straight years, Logan Justus was immediately besieged in each instance by friends, classmates and teachers.
By the time school rolled around the following Monday morning, the Mt. Vernon High School hallways were filled with well-wishers who knew of Justus’ football exploits.
But, if Justus scores a goal to help beat state hockey power Hamilton Southeastern, as he did twice this season, accolades are harder to come by.
“It’s a little strange,” said Justus, who also started for the Mt. Vernon soccer team in the fall. “Only my friends really know about it. But, it’s all right. I’m fine with it. It’s not why I play.”
Story continues below gallery
Man of Mystery
When it comes to hockey, Justus is Mt. Vernon’s Man of Mystery. The senior is a starting forward for the Lawrence Hockey Club. The Bearcats will take on nemesis Hamilton Southeastern Saturday at the Indiana Fairgrounds Coliseum in the AAAA state championship.
Justus and New Palestine junior Matthew Braun are Hancock County representatives on the Lawrence squad, which also draws prep players from Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, Warren Central, Westfield, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina, Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock; schools that don’t have their own teams.
‘From all around’
The clubs are part of the Indiana State High School Hockey Association, made up of programs from populous Indiana areas such as Fort Wayne, Carmel, Bloomington and Columbus.
This being Indiana, the veritable heartbeat of basketball, hockey players aren’t as abundant as the hardwood heroes.
“Playing with new people almost every year,” Braun said, explaining what he enjoys about hockey. “These are people from all around. I’m not only playing with kids from New Palestine.”
ISHSHA teams draw from large surrounding areas to fill 32 total squads, while there are more than 400 high school boys basketball teams in the state.
Justus, too, likes the uniqueness of club hockey.
“You could play a team that knows nothing about you, and you know nothing about them,” he said. “And it could turn out a bad game or a good game. It’s humbling in that way.”
On Saturday, the Bearcats will try to get past Hamilton Southeastern — state champs in 2010 and 2012 — for a third time this season. Justus scored on Hamilton Southeastern in each of two early-season wins but was shutout in the last matchup, a Hamilton Southeastern victory.
It’s been a relatively steep learning curve for Justus, who didn’t consider the sport until he was 10 years old. Watching a hockey game on television, he was instantly hooked.
“I took skating lessons for a whole year before I started playing, just so that I would know how to do it,” he noted.
Justus’ feet have always served him well athletically. While playing soccer full time, Justus also suited up as the football team’s kicker on Friday nights. Among the highlights, he buried a 35-yard field goal to help Mt. Vernon beat Delta 24-21 last fall, one year after burying the Eagles with a 37-yard field goal in a 23-20 win as a junior.
“It’s a lot more conditioning in hockey than in football, but you can also play a lot more games,” said Justus, who plans to study pre-med in the fall at Indiana University.
Unlike Justus, Braun’s athletic endeavors are limited to the ice. He’s been skating and competing since age 4.
“My parents tried to get me into other sports when I was younger, but I would deny it,” he said. “Hockey was the only sport to fit me.”
While much of Indiana’s high school sports fans will be focused Saturday on basketball regional action, the Lawrence Hockey Club will shoot for its first hockey state title since 2007. If it wins, it will be with a couple of young men from Hancock County who will be thrilled. Whether anyone knows about the title or not.
“It takes a lot of talent and a lot of hard work, but if you’re dedicated … it’s rewarding,” Justus said.
Indiana State High School Hockey Association State Finals, Saturday at Indiana Fairgrounds Coliseum.
Class A, 10 a.m.
Ft. Wayne Summit City Panthers vs. Fort Wayne Bruins
Class 2A, 12:30 p.m.
Bloomington Blades vs. Riley Wildcats
Class 3A, 3 p.m.
Columbus Icemen vs. Penn Kingsmen
Class 4A, 5:30 p.m.
Lawrence Bearcats vs. Hamilton Southeastern-A
Class 5A, 8 p.m.
Carmel Gold Icehounds vs. Culver Varsity A Eagles