In the Indiana High School Athletic Association state tournament pairings for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years released Monday, the defending Class 4A state champion Dragons were slotted in 5A Sectional 14 with the Olympians.
It makes for a juggernaut sectional that will include a pair of teams that were each 28-1 the past two seasons — with losses to only each other.
Both former 4A programs moved up a class via the IHSAA’s Tournament Success Factor. In 2013, in front of a sellout crowd, Columbus East defeated visiting New Palestine in a lopsided semistate championship game 49-14 and went on to win the state title. Spectators in New Palestine got a treat six months ago, however, as the Dragons kicked a last-second field goal for a 30-28 win against the Olympians on Nov. 21 in front of another capacity crowd. A week later, New Palestine routed New Prairie 77-42 for a state crown.
“I’m sure a lot of people will look at that sectional and gasp, but for our kids it’s not about other teams,” New Palestine coach Kyle Ralph said Monday. “It’s about our team. I told the kids today, we can’t control anything about the system. Our sectional is out of our control. Our eventual playoff draw is out of our control. So, focus on what we can control, and that’s ourselves. Focus on the daily process of making us the best we can be.”
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The Dragons and Olympians have run roughshod over their respective sectional foes of late. New Palestine beat Beech Grove last season 83-20 for the 4A Sectional 21 title. But similar sectional blowouts are less likely this fall. In addition to the Olympians, the Dragons could face Franklin, Martinsville or Whiteland in the five-team Sectional 14 alignment.
Each a longtime 5A football member, Whiteland went 8-4 a year ago; Martinsville was 7-4; and Franklin was 3-7.
“The whole program is excited for 5A in general,” Ralph said. “Smallest school in 5A and a hard sectional. Some very high-quality teams in there.
“But we aren’t going to ever let someone outwork us for supremacy. We are going to work as hard as we can to be the best version of whatever we can be and see how it goes.”
With New Palestine in 5A, the Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon squads will return to a 4A field in Sectional 22, which includes holdovers New Castle and Pendleton Heights and newcomers Connersville, Delta, Jay County and Richmond. Including the Cougars, Marauders, New Castle, Pendleton Heights and Delta, Sectional 22 includes all but three of the eight Hoosier Heritage Conference squads.
Eastern Hancock, like New Palestine, is moving up one class in football, although the Royals’ jump to 2A Sectional 38 is due to increased enrollment. The Royals’ new tourney field includes Centerville, Howe, Milan, Northeastern, Switzerland County, Triton Central and Union County.
Other highlights from the sectional unveilings, which included basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer alignments:
4A Sectional 9 for the Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon boys and girls basketball teams is nearly unchanged, with Connersville, New Castle, Pendleton Heights and Richmond returning to the field and Anderson being moved to Sectional 8. Volleyball Sectional 9 for Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon is the same grouping as basketball.
Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon have been split into separate baseball and softball sectionals. In 4A Sectional 9, the Cougars’ new alignment includes Anderson, Connersville, Muncie Central, New Castle, Pendleton Heights and Richmond. Mt. Vernon, meanwhile, will slide over to 4A Sectional 10 for baseball and softball, joining Tech, Cathedral, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North and Warren Central.
Eastern Hancock has been transplanted out of 2A Sectional 41 for boys and girls basketball into a more travel-friendlySectional 42, which includes Howe, Irvington, Knightstown, Shenandoah and Triton Central. The Royals’ previous sectional included such eastern Indiana teams as Union County and Northeastern, not far from the Ohio border.
“I like the location for us, as we could host again,” said Eastern Hancock girls basketball coach Jeremy Powers, whose club hosted the sectional two seasons ago before traveling to Cambridge City last winter. “I expect the boys (sectional) to play at Triton Central, so we are a viable opportunity to host.”
The Triton Central girl basketball team has been consistently ranked in the top 10 in the state the past several years but was eliminated two of the past three seasons in the regional by powerhouse Heritage Christian, which was bumped to 3A via the Tournament Success Factor.
Powers expects Triton Central, Knightstown, Shenandoah and his Royals to be sectional contenders in the revamped tourney.
“Shenandoah is one you can’t forget about in the sectional,” he said. “Even though they lose Rachel Krathwohl, Micah Kimball, and Haley Hudson, they still return quite arguably the best point guard in the sectional, Macy Rudy, along with solid contributors.”
In volleyball, the Royals’ sectional field is identical to the hoops setup, except for the addition of Heritage Christian.
In baseball and softball, Eastern Hancock’s sectionals will not include Knightstown or Shenandoah. The Royals’ hardball tourneys will boast Heritage Christian, Broad Ripple, Howe, Irvington and Triton Central.
The New Palestine boys basketball program dropped from 4A to 3A via enrollment and is in Sectional 27 with Brebeuf, Herron, Chatard, Attucks, Manual and Marshall. The New Palestine girls, however, because of other girls programs shuffling via the Tournament Success Factor, are stuck in 4A, where they’ll return to Sectional 13 with Center Grove, Franklin Central, Franklin, Greenwood, Martinsville and Whiteland.
For the boys team, it spent years adding its common sectional foes to the regular season schedule. The Dragons will now attempt to add the new Sectional 27 clubs to the docket, when possible.
“We have one opening this year, so our hope is to pick up one sectional opponent,” New Palestine boys coach Trent Whitaker said.
In baseball and softball, New Palestine is in the same 3A Sectional 27 grouping as the basketball teams, minus Attucks. For the Dragons volleyball program, it’s Sectional 27 field is the same as basketball, minus Brebeuf.
The soccer pairings are unchanged: Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, New Palestine and Shelbyville boys and girls teams will continue to meet in a four-team 2A sectional.
There are two IHSAA soccer classes; six classes for football; four classes for basketball, softball, baseball and volleyball; and a single class for other sports. Sectional host sites will be named closer to the beginning of the respective 2015-16 sports tournament series.
In addition to unveiling new state tournament alignments this week, the IHSAA also announced it passed a rule that would make a transfer student ineligible where a “past link” to the receiving school is established.
In a statement, the IHSAA said the new by-law was submitted by commissioner Bobby Cox on behalf of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, but will apply to any transfer student in any sport.
Under the rule, which takes effect immediately, a “past link” means that during the previous 12 months prior to enrollment, the transfer student attended an open gym at their new school, played on a summer or offseason team with a coach or representative from the new school or otherwise received instruction from a coach or representative of the new school.
In other IHSAA business:
* It unanimously approved new language addressing the use of officiating assigners, requiring that when a paid assigner is used he or she must be approved by the IHSAA, an IHSAA‐approved contract must be used and on file. If an assigner is used but not approved, the school shall pay a fine and the assigner will lose their license.
* A proposal to return junior varsity and freshmen basketball games to six minute quarters was rejected.
* A reduction of the number of required practices prior to a basketball jamboree from 10 to five was approved 17‐0.
* An amendment to reduce the number of volleyball contests from 25 to 22 was rejected.