LAST SEASON: 12-6
Co-HHC champs, sectional runner-up to Greenfield-Central
Head coach: Bobby Holden (2nd season)
Is two seasons without a sectional title enough time to be considered a drought? New Palestine’s last championship on the end of a four-year sectional sweep came in 2009. The Dragons have bowed out to Greenfield-Central in the past two sectional tournaments, losing in the semifinals in 2010 and the finals a year ago.
It’s not as if NP endured a poor showing in 2011; the team finished 12-6 and went 6-1 in Hoosier Heritage Conference play to earn a share of the conference title with G-C.
That quest to reclaim lost glory will commence without several key contributors from last fall. Two All-Hancock County selections in forward Wes Fox (11 goals, 11 assists) and midfielder John Ernster (seven goals, county-best 12 assists) graduated along with midfielder Ty Fidler, defender Austin Timmerman and defender Daniel Wright, all of whom were named All-County Honorable Mention.
So, 2012 won’t be the year the Dragons regain their foothold, right? Wrong, according to second-year coach Bobby Holden. His team’s convergence over the summer has permitted the former Greenfield-Central goalkeeper to exude a sunny outlook.
“It’s a good team. I’ll say better than expected,” said Holden, who will also coach the NP girls’ squad this fall. “We lost a lot in core spots … I’m excited for how strong we’re going to look.”
Holden is a concerted optimist, always holding his players and his teams in highest regard. He’s especially enthused with his stalwart sophomore class, most of whom will be tasked with protecting the net.
Brandt Basaran (midfield), Matt Ernster (defender), Caleb Kramer (midfield), Charles Ritzi (defender) and Scott Niehoff (defender) are slated to make an impact in Holden’s view.
A trio of returnees will also help determine the Dragons’ fate: senior keeper Jaron Pridgen, senior midfielder Bryson Basaran and junior midfielder Ben Richter, who Holden said will “shock” people with his style of play.
Pridgen is back for his second full season as NP’s keeper. In 2011, he allowed 22 goals in 18 contests and filed three shutouts.
“He was kind of (unnoticed) last year except for a couple games,” said Holden, the coach of multiple USF Real teams in the offseason. “Every goalkeeper is overlooked when you’re playing (former G-C keeper) Collin Kleckner though.”
All the elder Basaran accomplished last season was to notch a county-high 23 goals, including 10 in one game against Delta. He’s moving from forward to midfield to accommodate seniors Alex Thomas and Ryan Perkins as the Dragons shift from a 4-5-1 alignment to what Holden said what will most likely be a 4-4-2 configuration.
The scheduling gods were also kind the red-and-white. In addition to playing prominent nonconference games versus Center Grove and Franklin at home, NP hosts Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon. Also, from Sept. 8 to Sept. 25, the Dragons play seven straight games on their own turf before closing out the regular season at Pendleton Heights.
“We’ve got a lot of heavy, high-profile games at home this year,” said Holden, whose team opens the season Aug. 14 at Guerin Catholic. “This year we’re looking to do some work at home.”
For Holden, an additional reason for his sanguinity stems from spending his first full offseason with the program.
“Year after year you get to know your players better. We’ll be a good squad,” Holden said of his team, who began 2011 with a 7-1 mark. “As long as they stick together like they are right now, we’ll be OK.”