NEW PALESTINE — Life has come full circle for Justin Sass, and he’s exactly where he wants to be.
After a successful collegiate career at Butler University and the University of Evansville, Sass, a 2008 New Palestine graduate, spent last season as an assistant coach for the Dragons boys soccer team. However, after the resignation of head coach Jeff Burger, Sass will be in charge of a program he helped build nearly a decade ago.
As a senior at New Palestine, Sass, 26, was named First-Team All-State and helped the Dragons claim back-to-back sectional titles during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
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“He is someone who is sort of a legacy for our program,” said New Palestine athletics director Al Cooper. “He played here for four years (soccer) and was a tremendous basketball player for us. He really put our soccer program on the map.
“He is a fine young man who has a passion for the game. He will serve our young kids well as far as getting them in great condition and helping them understand the little things about the game that will make a difference long term.”
Last season, the Dragons finished 12-5-1 overall and 6-1 (first) in a tough Hoosier Heritage Conference. One season prior, New Palestine claimed a sectional championship — proving the winning culture established around the program in recent seasons.
What Sass brings to the table, though, is a hometown personality with a knack for teaching.
During the day, Sass works as a sixth-grade math teacher at Maxwell Intermediate School. He also coaches an 8- and 9-year-old travel team on the south side of Indianapolis. But finally being able to be called the head coach at New Palestine is a dream come true.
“I really wanted to go back to the high school where I played,” Sass said. “Once my playing career was over it was time to really give back to the sport that gave me so much in life. Now I have an opportunity to give back to a community that gave me so much. What better way to do this than be given this opportunity.
“It’s really been a passion, and I am really looking forward to building a program, not just a team, a lasting program. I want to get everyone involved.”
As a center-back in college, Sass will enforce the strong defensive approach the Dragons already have in place. Last season, the team allowed just .08 goals per game. With Sass at the helm, scoring against the Dragons will continue to be a challenge.
“Defense comes first and you really want to emphasize it,” Sass said. “You can’t keep getting scored on and wins games. But it’s going to depend on what guys come and show up. What we have will really determine the style we play.
“Obviously, though, our main focus will be defense. I believe in a defensive team, not just four guys playing defense. It translates into good offense.”
Spencer Corey, a junior this year at New Palestine, will anchor the defensive unit while juniors Josh Wallen (three goals and three assists) and Levi Miller (four goals) return with offensive experience. The Dragons graduate eight seniors, though, including goalkeeper Erik Silvey (seven shutouts).
“Guys are maturing and developing,” Sass said. “Come July, we’ll see what we have and build the team around that. I am just looking forward to getting outside.”
Justin Sass, New Palestine Head Boys Soccer Coach
• 2008 New Palestine graduate
• Played soccer (All-State in ’08) and basketball for Dragons
• Won sectional titles in soccer in 2007 and 2008
• Played collegiate soccer at Butler University and the University of Evansville
• Graduated with a degree in Education from the University of Evansville in 2014
• Coach of eight- and nine-year-old travel team named St. Francis
• Sixth-grade math teacher at Maxwell Intermediate School
• Assistant coach in 2015 for New Palestine boys’ soccer team
NOTES: As a senior at Butler in 2013, Sass scored five goals and dished out two assists. At New Palestine, Sass started as a senior on the boys basketball team. He graduated with a degree in education from the University of Evansville in 2014.