Head coach: Bobby Holden, 3rd season.
2012: 10-7-1. Lost in sectional final to Mt. Vernon
Outlook: The injury-induced trial by fire the Dragons were forced to endure near the end of their 2012 campaign should pay dividends in 2013.
Playing without its leading scorer (Bryson Basaran), two starters (Ben Richter, Ryan Perkins) and a key reserve (Alex Melangton), New Palestine relied even harder on its defense in last fall’s sectional, escaping with a 1-0 semifinal win over host Shelbyville before falling 1-0 to Mt. Vernon in the championship game — a contest started by only two red and white seniors.
“The injuries gave our young guys a chance to show what they could do and gave them some exposure to varsity game. We came up short in the end,” NP coach Bobby Holden said. “I don’t want to put it on injuries, but those were a big part of it.”
Of the departed, Basaran’s void will be toughest to fill. The current Wright State Raider scored 35 goals the last two seasons, and his absence was notable in the sectional as the Dragons struggled to mount a creative and consistent offensive attack.
Goals were difficult to come by even with Basaran on the field. In nine games vs. teams over .500 — Basaran played in eight — Holden’s unit registered nine goals.
“We’re going to struggle offensively again,” explained Holden, who no longer coaches the school’s girls soccer team, something he did for one season in 2012. “But one thing we’re known for at New Pal is our defense.”
NP did in fact put the ‘D’ in Dragons last fall, posting seven shutouts behind a young but sturdy back line and senior goal keeper Jaron Pridgen.
Five junior defenders — Brandt Basaran, Matt Ernster, Scott Niehoff, Kelson Pike and CJ Ritzi — form the core of the New Palestine back wall, and all except Pike saw extensive varsity minutes last season. Ernster was an all-county selection in 2012.
As for replacing Pridgen, Holden said, “Our goal keeping is always top-notch.” The coach said he’s confident junior Kyle Rodebeck will fill in without a hitch even with Rodebeck having just 30 varsity minutes to his name.
Since claiming four consecutive sectional crowns from 2006-09, the Dragons have fallen one win short of adding to their trophy case the past two years.
“I want a sectional championship just like any other coach. Some coaches have to wait a long time for it, but I’m not wanting to do that. I want one in the next year or two,” Holden said. “I talk to my boys about our goals — conference, sectional, a winning season. We want 10-plus wins, and a sectional championship is right up there at the top of our goals.”
On Tuesday, New Palestine hosts Guerin Catholic in its 2013 opener.