CHARLOTTESVILLE — Pat Echeverria wants you to ring his bell. Or at least listen to it.
A former offensive lineman for DePauw University, Echeverria will always cherish memories of the Tigers’ annual clash with Wabash — one of college football’s longest and most colorful rivalries.
Since 1932, the two Indiana schools have played for more than bragging rights. The gridiron winner gets possession of the Monon Bell, a 300-pound “trophy” painted equal parts red and gold (the primary colors of the two teams).
“Just the sound of the bell, I’ll never forget it,” said Echeverria, a 2001 graduate and winner of four Monon Bell games. “It seemed like it brought us together even more as a team.”
Now entering his second year as the Eastern Hancock football coach, Echeverria is ready to bring a noisy tradition to rural Charlottesville. Except the Royal Pride Bell — an old church bell cast in 1886 and recently discovered by Echeverria in an antique store — won’t be up for grabs.
The bell, which Echeverria, with the help of his father, painted and had mounted on a base, will be permanently placed at the east end of the Royals’ football field. The bell will sound for team introductions, touchdowns, and so on.
Echeverria explained he was looking for a symbol of the Eastern Hancock football program.
“That way when our opponents come over, it’s something to kind of link this place in their head, like, ‘Hey we’re going to that annoying bell that’s always ringing,” Echeverria said with a laugh. “The sound is pretty cool.
“We’re trying to build a little tradition, something to rally around.”
The Royals are offering commemorative bricks for $35 and $70 that will be used to build a pedestal on which the bell will be placed. (Visit www.ehathletics.org for more information).
Echeverria plans to ask youth football players, alumni or other supporters to ring the bell during games. The coach would also like to include in one of the first bell ceremonies Brian Diefenderfer, an EH senior and former football player who was paralyzed in an automobile accident in June, 2010.
Overall, the Royal Pride Bell is just one more step for Echeverria as he tries to rebuild a formerly downtrodden program.
Last year’s group went 3-7 in Echeverria’s rookie season, a modest improvement from the 2010 team’s 1-9 mark. But, the Royals cut their average margin of defeat from 33.9 points two years ago to 9.9 points last season.
In June, Echeverria, a former Pike coordinator, completed a move from Noblesville into a house near Eastern Hancock. As he has gotten to know the community and its people, Echeverria said he’s been encouraged by the local response.
“We had 50-some kids at our middle school camp and we’re going to be looking at over 100 kids in our youth league and over 50 kids at the varsity level and JV level, so the numbers are extremely good,” he said. “And the parents have been extremely supportive.
“Obviously 3-7 isn’t the record everybody wants or that I want, but I think they see the progress that the kids are making. I think they want some more wins this year, and that’s what we expect to do.”
Eastern Hancock will begin the season Aug. 17 against Indianapolis Tindley at Arlington, which is Tindley’s home field. Tindley replaced Triton Central on the EH schedule after the Tigers dropped the Royals and other Mid-Indiana Football Conference foes in order to join the Indiana Crossroads Conference.
The Royals began preparing for what they hope is their first winning campaign since 2006 with their team camp in early June, followed by 11-on-11 practices at Cascade and 7-on-7 tournaments at Center Grove and Pike.
In the 7-on-7 tourneys, Echeverria said the Royals “competed in the highest division against the big schools and had a really good showing. Some kids stepped up and did a really nice job. 7-on-7 is not real football, but kids are out there competing and working hard and running our offense and things like that, so we got a lot better.”
The coach added that this squad is well ahead of last year’s pace. Echeverria was hired in April of 2011 and spent the first several months acclimating his new players to his football philosophies and style of play.
“This summer, we were able to go at a much faster pace and the kids picked up on some of the wrinkles and things that we’re going to be adding this year a lot quicker than last year,” he said. “It just went so much smoother.”
“When you have your core group of kids that understand what’s going on, they can help the coaching staff make the younger kids better, because they already know what’s happening.”
Among the veterans is junior running back Spencer Gilbert. Last year as a sophomore, he led Hancock County in rushing with 1,007 yard on 198 carries.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder has started to receive attention from college programs, Echeverria said.
“Spencer’s had a really good offseason. He’s definitely a big part of what we’re going to do. He’s our strongest and fastest kid and he’s a heck of a football player.
“The difference between this year and last year is there’s going to be other pieces around him to take that burden off and I think we have a lot of playmakers that are ready to step up.”
The EH 45-man roster last fall included 29 freshmen and sophomores. Among the few key graduates was quarterback/defensive back Logan Gilbert, who passed for 792 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was also the Royals’ second-leading rusher and fourth-leading tackler.
Echeverria believes he’s found Gilbert’s offensive replacement in Logan Splater, a 6-foot sophomore.
The Royals have four quarterbacks: two freshmen and two sophomores.
“We’ll definitely have our ups and downs at the quarterback position, but (Splater) definitely has the skills and ability to be pretty good,” Echeverria said.
The Royals’ first home game is Aug. 31 against Indian Creek. It could be a Splater touchdown pass or a Spencer Gilbert dash into the endzone that causes the first celebratory ring for the Royal Pride Bell.
“Hopefully the kids can rally around something like that, that symbol of coming together,” Echeverria said.
Plugging big holes
Fresh off a return from team camp at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marian, the Eastern Hancock boys’ basketball team has discovered that replacing Jared Pyle and Cody Clark won’t be left to one or two players.
The recent EH graduates represented a combined 15 rebounds per game last season for the Royals, with the six-foot-3 Pyle pulling down a Hancock County-best 9.7 boards while the 6-5 Clark grabbed nearly six rebounds nightly.
“It’s going to have to be a collective effort,” said EH coach Aaron Spaulding of his team’s most obvious area of concern.
The Royals started the summer with a week-long camp at school the first week of June, followed by a weekend tournament in Noblesville and games in Shenandoah and at home in their annual alumni game, all sandwiched around regular workouts and weightlifting.
Last week’s camp at Indiana Wesleyan provided the perfect cap to the summer workload, Spaulding said. Including this week’s IHSAA moratorium, the Royals will have what’s left of the summer off, with many of the basketball players gearing up for their fall sports, such as football and cross country.
“(Indiana Wesleyan camp) is really the first time all summer where we have game situations with everyone together,” the 14th-year coach said. “We get a good idea of what we have, what’s working well and what kind of things we need to make adjustments on.
“And who fills what area the best, as far as who is going to play what position.”
One certainty is senior guard Victor Vincz, the county’s leading scorer (18 ppg) and assist man (5.3 pg) last season. The 5-10 Vincz is also the team’s leading returning rebounder at 4.7 per game.
Helping to fill in down low and all around for Pyle (15.5 ppg) and Clark (5.7 ppg) will be senior forward Cody Wallace (6-3), EH’s top returning post player.
Vincz and Wallace missed significant time this summer recovering from injuries. Vincz suffered a concussion in the sectional in early March, and wasn’t cleared medically until June 19, just in time for the Indiana Wesleyan trip.
Vincz (along with Mt. Vernon’s C.J. Coleman and New Palestine’s Michael Morris) have also been invited to take part in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association recruiting showcase July 19 at Ben Davis.
Garrett Hancock, a 5-8 junior, had a productive effort this month, Spaulding said, although the guard recently suffered a concussion.
Among last year’s mostly junior varsity players who will contribute more heavily this winter, senior Garrett Lee (5-11, G), junior Spencer Gilbert (6-0, F) and sophomores Cooper Henderson (5-8, G) Derrik Noel (6-0, F) saw plenty of action this month.
“Garrett has done a real good job for us,” Spaulding said. “Cooper has done a good job, and Derrik has been playing up (on varsity) some.
“And Spencer started to contribute toward the end of last season, so we expect that to continue.”
Gilbert, the football team’s running back, had six total rebounds through the Royals’ first 17 games last year, then averaged 4 rebounds over the final six games.
Varsity regulars Isaiah McCormick, a starting junior guard, and seniors Shane McCormick and DJ Collis rounded out the June contingent.
Besides tinkering with the cagers’ lineup, Spaulding — the EH athletic director — has been busy the last few months making drastic changes to the team’s schedule.
With the 2012-13 school year marking Eastern Hancock’s first foray as a member of the Mid-Hoosier Conference, Spaulding had to find a spot on the basketball docket (along with all other sports) for MHC squads Waldron, Indian Creek, Edinburgh, Hauser, North Decatur and South Decatur. EH already has annual dates with the Mid-Hoosier’s Morristown and Southwestern.
To make room for the six other MHC teams, the EH boys dropped Sheridan, Frankton, Blue River Valley, Lapel, Alexandria and former MHC member Triton Central, now in the Indiana Crossroads Conference.
“Dropping six schools, that’s certainly the most significant change to the schedule over one year since I’ve been here,” Spaulding said.
The Royals were without conference affiliation in 2009-10 and 2010-11 following the dissolution of the White River Conference.
It’s all mental
When the Eastern Hancock girls’ basketball season ended Feb. 7, so did the Royals’ designation as a “young” team.
What was a team of mostly underclassmen last season hit the court this summer as soon-to-be-juniors. And the difference has been dramatic.
“Last summer, we were just trying to get used to each other,” said coach Jeremy Powers, entering his second season at EH. “This year, the explanation of things and different plays isn’t so drawn out. The girls know what to expect, and they’re picking up on things much quicker.”
Despite nine freshmen and sophomores among last year’s top 11 players, the Royals finished 12-9 to secure their first wining season since 2003-04.
Knowing he had a capable, talented group, Powers beefed up the team’s summer schedule, adding several Class 3A and 4A programs.
Following the 2A Royals’ team camp in early June, they participated in shootouts and scrimmages at Clinton Prairie, Indiana State, Winchester, Knightstown and Greensburg.
All told, the Royals played 20 games in a little over two weeks. (They cut their time together short because several team members were heavily involved in the 4-H Fair.)
“We wanted to have more of an opportunity to see where we’re at as a program,” Powers said. “We held our own and actually won a few games against those (large) schools, most notably Greensburg.”
The winning campaign of last winter, coupled with a successful summer circuit has had an impact on the girls’ demeanor.
“I’m seeing more confidence,” Powers said. “The physical improvement will come on its own. Basketball is more mental than anything. And the girls’ instincts for what to do on the court have gotten sharper.
“We took care of business against the schools our size and 1A this summer, and that is a sign all 11 of these girls believe in themselves and what we are doing.”
Having lost no starters to graduation, Powers believes his Year 2 team to be 11 players deep, led by senior Kaytlin Eastes, juniors Kiersten Schrope, Kristin Eischen, Hannah Best, Alora Marshall, Skyler Overleese, Allison Dickey and Lauren Harmon and sophomores Peyton Neisler, Rachel Boaz and Shelby Mourey.
Powers said he expects “big things” from each varsity member.
Six Royals netted between five and nine points per game last season, with all of the previously mentioned players seeing action in at least 15 varsity games, with the exception of Mourey.
The 5-foot-6 Mourey played mostly JV last year, but she’s been among the most impressive Royals on the summer court.
“She’s started some games for us this month and she’s done really well,” Powers said. “She’s quick, athletic and runs the floor well.”
Powers has also been impressed with Harmon, a 5-11 forward and the team’s sixth-leading scorer last winter at five points per game.
“Besides the girls like Eischen and Schrope and Eastes, I think those two are two players to watch out for as far as really improving,” Powers said of Mourey and Harmon.
Like the boys’ basketball team, the girls will also face a much different schedule this winter.
The Royals have traditionally faced Mid-Hoosier programs Southwestern, Morristown and Waldron and, to make room for Indian Creek, Hauser, Edinburgh, North Decatur and South Decatur, they dropped Horizon Christian, Shenandoah, Frankton, Blue River, Centerville and Triton Central.
EH also picked up Franklin County, a 3A program.
After opening the season Nov. 7 at 2A Elwood, the Royals will face three straight 3A clubs — Muncie South and Franklin County at home and against Indian Creek on the road.
At the starting line
While the Royals’ basketball and football teams wrap up most of their offseason program by the end of June, the cross country unit doesn’t really hit the ground running until July.
With several of his harriers involved in 4-H and the county fair, plus their commitments to other sports, EH cross country coach Rex Putt has to be patient.
“We haven’t got a whole lot accomplished at this point,” he said. “But we will. Here in the next few weeks, that’s when we need to pick it up. If we don’t start running until school starts, that’s too late.’
With school beginning Aug. 1 this year on a balanced calendar schedule instead of the traditional mid-August date, EH sports teams no longer have that two-week cushion to get up to speed.
When the Royals start their workouts, they’ll be led by female veterans Kiersten Schrope and Shelby Wyatt. Schrope, a junior, finished runner-up at the county meet last season and finished 16th at the regional, one place from advancing to semistate.
Wyatt, a senior, placed higher than Schrope at the sectional two years ago, but she was hindered by shin splints last year and wasn’t healthy enough for the postseason.
Putt expects Wyatt to be 100 percent when summer conditioning begins.
Making their debut on the Royals’ practice course as varsity members will be freshmen Karlee Gray, Hope Spaulding and Cara Johnson.
Kentucky, here they come
Like the cross country squad, the EH volleyball team will use July to ramp up for the regular season.
The Royals are planning a hog roast and double-elimination tourney July 21 as part of their summer league, according to coach Mike Eastes.
They’ve also been doing a jump program, and the girls will head to Lexington, Ky., next week for Kentucky Team Camp.
The jump program is designed to increase vertical lift and foot speed.
“Most everybody has increased at least three inches (on vertical leap) this summer,” Eastes said.
Look for complete fall sports previews beginning in August in the Daily Reporter. The Hancock County Football Preview special section will be published Aug. 16.