Idea of soccer regional semifinal has merit

The Northridge boys soccer team celebrates a PK goal by Carter Stoltzfus (middle) during the Raiders Class 3A Penn Boys Soccer Semifinal game against Chesterton on Saturday.

A few thoughts from another busy weekend of high school sports.

• TWO OR ONE?: I'm far from an expert on soccer, but when I saw the quote from Nothridge coach Lawrence Baltazar on Saturday about changing the regional from a one-day event to two, it did catch my eye.

The Raiders took down defending state champion and unbeaten Chesterton in the semifinals of the Class 3A Penn Boys Soccer Sectional on Saturday, before losing in the finals to Lake Central, 2-1.

Lake Central had beaten South Bend Adams easily in the day's first game, before Northridge faced Chesterton. The Raiders were back on the field for the finals less than five hours after beating the Trojans.

After the loss, Baltazar told our Anthony Anderson that the IHSAA should consider installing geographical-based regional semifinals that would take place mid-week, with the regional finals on Saturday.

"That's the way it should be, honestly,'' Baltazar said. "and we talked about this before we lost. It's not a fair set-up. It's just not. It's hard to expect these kids to run and put in the same effort when you have to play a Chesterton, and then turn around and try to do it again. They were the defending state champs and it took every ounce we had to beat them. To me it's just hard to recover from that.''

I totally get Baltazar's point and it is a good one. I'd love to see that change made and if everything went right every year, maybe it could happen.

Unfortunately, there are obstacles in the way.

For one thing, there are sometimes weather-related issues that force the sectional championship games to Monday, rather than Saturday. In 2018, both the boys and girls sectional finals had to be moved to Concord on Monday due to heavy rain and flooding over the weekend.

In addition, you'd have to find a way to get both the girls and boys regional semifinals in during the week, which also could be a challenge, especially if the sectional winners are from the same school and you're dividing fan bases.

This year in the local 3A boys regional, it would have worked. Northridge could have played Adams and Lake Central would have battled Churubusco, with the winners playing at Penn on Saturday.

But it's rarely that clear cut, and you have three classes and a number of regional sites around the state to consider.

Plus, teams often play two-game tournaments on the weekends during the season against great competition. I know there isn't a possible regional title up for grabs in those games, but players have done it, often in warmer weather than they'll see in October.

I do like Baltazar's idea, I'm just not sure it can be done.

• XC SEMISTATE: I wrote last year about how the IHSAA "tinkered" with the regional and semistate cross country location for both Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern high schools – located a stone's throw away from the IHSAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

The IHSAA sent both schools to the already strong New Haven Semistate, giving the teams a clearer path to reaching the state finals.

The plan worked, as both schools advanced to the state meet in Terre Haute, blocking the way of several teams actually located in the northern part of the state.

Not surprisingly, both schools will be back at New Haven this year, after they cruised through the Marion Regional last week.

Northridge coach Ryan McClane said on Saturday that his girls team, which has scored 32 and 34 points in dominating the Elkhart Sectional and Elkhart Regional the last two weeks, will enter the semistate as only the sixth or seventh best team.

"We'll have to run an outstanding race just to have a chance at the state finals,'' McClane said after the Raiders won the regional last Saturday.

This move by the IHSAA is clearly unfair and biased, but it looks worse when you look at their website and see who the Class 4A District II representative to the IHSAA is.

Jim Brown of Fishers.

Enough said.

• NORTHWOOD CHALLENGE: The NorthWood volleyball team rolled through the Class 3A Wawasee Sectional last week, not losing a single set in beating Wawasee, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble.

Coach Hilary Laidig's Panthers are 31-3 and haven't lost since August. All three of their losses are to 4A teams still alive in the tournament, twice to Penn and once to Homestead. They feature a pair of All-State candidates in seniors Caroline Mullet and Maddy Payne.

Nonetheless, NorthWood faces a daunting Norwell Regional on Saturday, starting with its opening match against Northwestern (27-2) at 10 a.m. If the Panthers can best Northwestern, they'll face the winner of the Angola (27-4) vs. Bellmont (22-10) match for the regional title.

The north semistate would be either at Plymouth or Frankfort on Nov. 2, with the state finals at Ball State University the following weekend.

• NORTH?: Speaking of a "north" semistate, a Penn High School team will once again be learning IHSAA Geography this weekend, when coach Jeff Hart's girls soccer team will travel to Kokomo for Class 3A semistate play, rather than at South Bend St. Joseph on Saturday.

But this time, it makes a little sense.

The Kingsmen will face Noblesville at Kokomo for a shot at playing for a state title next weekend in Indianapolis. Noblesville's boys team has also reached the semistate and will be playing in Kokomo immediately following the girls game.

Plus, the Marian girls and St. Joseph boys qualified for the semistate and will play Fort Wayne-area teams at St. Joe.

But this comes after the Penn boys basketball team reached the semistate last March and was sent to Lafayette to play Carmel, rather than playing at Elkhart's North Side Gym.

Honestly, IHSAA, if you're going to continue to send Indianapolis-based teams north for semistate action, at least let them actually step foot in the north once in awhile.

Check Google, IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox, Noblesville is 34 miles from Kokomo, while Penn is 94. Yep, seems fair to me.

• EMOTIONAL ENDS: It's been sad to see the final games or matches for Elkhart Memorial and Elkhart Central already this fall.

With the two schools merge in 2020 to form Elkhart High School, the tournament losses in tennis, volleyball and boys and girls soccer will be the final ones in school history.

In cross country, the Elkhart Central girls have qualified for semistate, where they'll be joined by Memorial's Morgan Dyer and Rachel Terrell. For the boys, Memorial's Neil Terrell and Central's Jose Quinones and Eric Garcia have also advanced.

With the football state tournament starting this week, the question is, how long can Central and Memorial keep their respective teams – and schools – alive.

Ken Fox is the sports editor of the Elkhart Truth. You may reach him at kfox@elkharttruth.com or @KenFoxTruth on Twitter

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