Championships will be decided Saturday in three different high school sports. Up first in the morning, cross-country teams from across the state will converge to decide state tournament advancement at 32 different sectional sites. In the afternoon, the Hancock County Volleyball Tournament will crown a champion. At the same time, two local rivals will meet again to decide the Sectional 23 boys soccer champion. For the finale, the girls seize the spotlight with Greenfield-Central and New Palestine set to tangle in the Sectional 23 soccer title match.
Once and for all
The stage is set for two inter-county soccer rematches Saturday, but the first will finally answer the question many local soccer fans have been asking.
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Who is the best team in the Hoosier Heritage Conference?
Mt. Vernon (14-2-1, 6-1 HHC) and New Palestine (12-4-1, 6-1 HHC) were both named co-conference champions this season. This anti-climatic regular-season finish did nothing for bragging rights.
Instead with everything on the line at Greenfield-Central, this highly-anticipated 2 p.m. sectional championship showdown will settle the debate.
In their previous meeting, the defending sectional champion Dragons survived in a shootout 4-3 after both teams finished the match tied at 1-1.
Coincidentally, New Palestine, which graduated more than 12 seniors from last year’s squad, is fresh off a sudden-death shootout semifinal win against rival Greenfield-Central 5-4 on Wednesday night. Mt. Vernon faced minimal resistance against Shelbyville in their semifinal, winning 5-1.
Both teams pride themselves on defense, and it will be a factor with New Palestine allowing only 14 goals in 17 matches. Mt. Vernon has permitted 10 this year.
The Marauders lost to the Dragons 5-1 in last year’s sectional semifinal, but they have been the county’s top-scoring team with 58 goals this season.
Carson Jones leads Mt. Vernon with 14 goals. Jarret Whitehouse is second at 12. Goalkeeper Josh Powell has posted nine shutouts in 13 wins. New Palestine’s Erik Silvey isn’t too far off with six and two shootout victories.
The New Palestine girls soccer team remains the team to beat.
The Dragons avenged one of their three losses this season Tuesday against Greenfield-Central, 1-0, in the Sectional 23 semifinals and are now one step away from a three-peat.
Winners of seven straight matches, the Dragons are seeking a 12th sectional title in 16 years and their second string of three or more after claiming the crown in both 2013 and 2014.
New Palestine owns the county’s longest streak of girls soccer sectional championships with six consecutive from 2006-11.
The Dragons (15-1, 6-1 HHC) tied New Castle for the Hoosier Heritage Conference title this season — their first since 2012 — and keep finding ways to win with a strong overall attack.
Katie Villiger leads the team with 15 goals and 56 shots, but the offense is multi-faceted, scoring three or more goals in 10 of its 16 games, including three games with seven or more.
In their 2-1 victory against Mt. Vernon during the regular season, Villiger buried the game-winner in the second overtime period.
The Marauders (10-5-1, 5-2 HHC) have won four straight matches and five of their last six, outscoring their opponents 38-10. Mt. Vernon eliminated Shelbyville 5-1 in the sectional semifinals with three goals from Morgan Scruggs, who has 19 on the year.
Four players have 10 or more goals scored for the Marauders — two are freshman and two are sophomores.
Make it Two
The Mt. Vernon volleyball team stood alone last year, winning 24 matches, the Hancock County Tournament and nearly challenging for the Sectional 9 title.
Parity has ensued this fall.
Coach Kelli Whitaker’s New Palestine Dragons carry a 22-4 record and have made several appearances in the coaches’ association top-20 rankings in Class 3A.
Greenfield-Central under first-year coach Deena Batton is 17-9 and has scored key wins, including a 2-1 victory against Mt. Vernon during its Cougar Challenge last month.
A big reason for their success has been outstanding play from senior Rachel Irbe and a lineup of four 5-foot-10 hitters.
The Cougars are only two years removed from winning the county tournament in both 2012 and 2013. In their first meeting with Mt. Vernon, Greenfield-Central lost 3-0 and took New Palestine to five sets before falling 3-2.
New Palestine has been solid the entire year, defeating Brebeuf Jesuit 3-1 and Indianapolis Lutheran 3-2 behind the strong play of outside hitter Allison Dennemann.
Mt. Vernon is 22-4 this season and has contended with a difficult schedule (winners versus Cardinal Ritter, Zionsville, Westfield, Fishers and Noblesville). Led by senior Mary Grace Ertel and junior Jaclyn Bulmahn, the Marauders have won four straight since losing to Greenfield-Central.
The Marauders host the county tournament Saturday and are looking for a repeat but have a tough task in the opening round.
Pitted against New Palestine, the two teams play following the junior varsity first-round matches at 9 a.m. Greenfield-Central and Eastern Hancock face off in the other semifinal.
The championship and consolation matches will take place after the junior varsity.