The high school sports landscape is changing, beginning this fall for several Hancock County sports programs.
On March 29, the IHSAA released its latest classifications based on enrollments for each school, which shifted a few of the area’s schools around.
On May 1, the IHSAA revealed its executive committee’s approved sectional assignments in six team sports for the next two school years. Those realignments in football, volleyball, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls basketball mapped out new state tournament paths for the New Palestine Dragons, Mt. Vernon Marauders, Greenfield-Central Cougars and Eastern Hancock Royals.
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On July 17, classifications for baseball and softball were announced for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, with sectional groupings for both sports to be revealed in late August.
When the high school football season opens Aug. 18, the New Palestine Dragons and Greenfield-Central Cougars will see the biggest changes.
After moving up to Class 5A in 2015, the Dragons will remain in the same classification per the association’s rule 2-5 (reclassification of schools in team sports due to previous tournament series success), according to the IHSAA.
With an enrollment of 1,119 students, the Dragons will be the smallest school in 5A. Greenfield-Central is moving up to 5A from 4A due to enrollment with 1,510 students to become the 32nd largest school in their new classification.
The shift now places both programs on the same tournament path, with the Dragons and Cougars occupying Sectional 12 along with Anderson, Muncie Central and Zionsville.
New Palestine previously was pitted against rival Columbus East, Martinsville, Whiteland and Franklin Community in the sectional. Three of the four are now heading south in Sectional 14 with Bloomington North and South, while Columbus East joins Sectional 15.
Greenfield-Central was part of Class 4A Sectional 22 last year with Mt. Vernon, which stands pat.
The revamped Sectional 22, which was an eight-team field in 2016, shrinks to seven while adding Beech Grove, Greenwood, Mooresville and subtracting defending champion Delta, who moves to Class 4A Sectional 21.
Class 2A Eastern Hancock kept its classification, but it moves to Sectional 37 from Sectional 38 along with Triton Central, Centerville, Milan and Union County.
Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina and Knightstown round out Sectional 37 this fall.
The New Palestine Dragons, coached by Kelli Whitaker, claimed their first sectional title since 1989 last fall before winning the program’s first regional championship en route to a state tournament final four finale.
They did it in Class 3A, but if they look to repeat their success it will occur in a higher classification. Bumped up due to enrollment, the Dragons’ 1,119 students pushes the program into 4A along with Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Yorktown, which goes up due to the IHSAA’s success factor.
Despite the change, Whitaker and the Dragons, led by a pair of senior standouts in Allison Dennemann and Mia Long, are eager for the challenge. The team finished summer league play with a perfect 12-0 record this month.
“We are looking forward to the competition in 4A,” Whitaker said. “We got a couple of good wins against 4A programs in our summer league. That helped the girls realize we will still be very competitive in our new class.”
Dennemann led the state with 700 kills and added 476 digs, 54 aces and 52 blocks for the Dragons last season. The outside hitter was named ICGSA First Team All-State (3A), an Indiana Junior All-Star and All-Hoosier Heritage Conference.
Long had 420 kills and 434 digs, 43 aces and 23 blocks. She was named an All-Hoosier Heritage Conference honorable mention.
Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central remain in 4A, while Eastern Hancock stays in 2A and will play in Sectional 11 hosted by Triton Central.
The Dragons will join HHC rival Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central in Sectional 9 this year following the reclassification. Conference foe Pendleton Heights in addition to Connersville and Richmond complete the field.
Mt. Vernon, coached by Eric Bulmahn, won the sectional for a second straight season in 2016, and the Marauders host Sectional 9 this season.
In 2011, the IHSAA implemented a second class for soccer. In 2017, the sport is being split into three classes for both boys and girls.
On the boys side, this change means New Palestine, Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon will once again find themselves locked in the same sectional.
With all three programs placed in Class 3A, the HHC rivals are in Sectional 12 with Connersville, East Central, Richmond and Shelbyville.
On the girls side, Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central will compete in 3A as part of Sectional 12 with East Central, Franklin Central, Richmond and Warren Central.
The New Palestine Dragons are in Class 2A due to enrollment and will see Beech Grove, Connersville, Rushville and Shelbyville in Sectional 28.
The New Palestine Dragons, once again, are on the move, with boys basketball program joining the girls in Class 4A, beginning this school year.
The Dragons boys head to 4A Sectional 9 with county rivals Mt. Vernon, Greenfield-Central and fellow HHC foe Pendleton Heights. Connersville and Richmond complete the six-team field.
The sectional realignments in girls basketball brings New Palestine closer to home as it joins Sectional 9 this year. The field mirrors the boys sectional field after spending last season with the likes of Franklin Central, Center Grove and Greenwood.
The New Palestine Dragons dropped down to Class 3A in 2016, and they won their fourth state championship overall this past spring behind one of the most prolific offenses in state history.
Following their title run, many assumed a move up to 4A in 2017-18 due to enrollment. Those opinions were correct with 1,119 students on record for 2017-18, but the IHSAA’s Success Factor will keep them in 3A to defend their title.
Kankakee Valley, which was Class 3A state runner-up to New Palestine in 2017, will go up to 4A despite an enrollment of 1,083. Leo (872 students) and Gibson Southern (654 students) will remain in 4A due to rule 2-5.
This leaves New Palestine (1,119) as the second-largest school in 3A just behind South Bend Clay with 1,143 students.
“We play a difficult schedule loaded with 4A powerhouses,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “Our plan is to be prepared for the tournament in whatever class the IHSAA decides.”
Eastern Hancock, which repeated as sectional champions in 2017, remains in 2A. Greenfield-Central, a regional champion last spring, along with Mt. Vernon are in 4A for 2017-18.
Enrollment figures held true when re-configuring baseball classifications for 2017-18. New Palestine moves up to Class 4A after spending time in 3A in years past.
Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central have been classified as 4A due to enrollment, and Eastern Hancock remains in 2A.