Eight top stories to watch this fall

·5 min read

Aug. 2—The 2021-22 high school athletic year featured plenty of area success in each of the three seasons, and fall set the tone with multiple sectional champions, exciting county tournaments and a state champion.

Practices began this week for a new fall season, one that promises to yield similar excitement as a deep and talented field of area athletes prepares to continue the recent trend of winning as the leaves change colors.

While there are a multitude of storylines to watch this season, here is a glance at a few that feature potential repeat winners, new faces, as well as some changes for area teams:

MACY BEESON

It should come as no surprise Lapel's two-time defending state champion is at the top of the stories everyone will be watching over the next few months. Beeson, the school's first individual state champion, will attempt to become the state's first three-time girls golf champion since 1999 and just the third ever. A subplot to her potential run would be returning to 2020 form when she also won sectional and regional titles along the way.

CLASS ACTION

The IHSAA announced earlier this year Frankton would move up to Class 3A in most sports — excluding football — and the Eagles volleyball team will be the first to accept the new challenge. Coach Beth Sperry's squad returns almost the entire roster from last year's 21-11 team that nearly won its second 2A sectional in four years. The Eagles will now compete in geographically diverse Sectional 24 with Centerville, Delta, Jay County and New Castle.

FIRST-YEAR LEADERS

Area schools have dealt with large coaching turnover for the coming year, and many new coaches will make their debuts this fall. They include Will Dailey and Tom Austin as co-coaches for Elwood girls golf, cross country coaches Doug Osselar (Liberty Christian) and Ethan Evans (Elwood) as well as David Beard returning to Daleville after a brief retirement and long-time girls coach Melissa Hagerman adding the boys team to her duties at Pendleton Heights. New volleyball coaches include Anna Ritz (Liberty Christian), Alexis Gurley (Anderson), Christopher Ferris (Anderson Prep), Jackie Kimball (Shenandoah), Jerry Saffold (Elwood) and Sydnee Rudy (Alexandria). Jarred Pennycuff takes over the Anderson football team, and Adam Alt (Liberty Christian) and Chris Moore (APA) will make their soccer coaching debuts.

NEW KIDS ON THE PITCH

Two additional first-year coaches will guide brand new programs this season as Lapel has added boys and girls soccer teams to its fall lineup. Ryan Jackson will coach the boys team while Chad Soden leads the girls squad as the Bulldogs join established area programs from Anderson, APA, Liberty Christian and Pendleton Heights in bringing soccer to Madison County.

REPEAT PERFORMERS

Fall of 2022 was an especially exciting time for area volleyball teams as three teams won sectionals and another continued unprecedented Madison County dominance. Madison-Grant will look to retool after six key players graduated and defend its Class 2A Sectional 39 championship while Alexandria will face a tough field that includes Wapahani, Wes-Del and Muncie Burris as it looks to repeat in 2A Sectional 40. Daleville advanced to the regional finals in 2021 and will be overwhelming favorites to repeat in 1A Sectional 55. Pendleton Heights will look for its fifth consecutive Madison County championship and has not lost a set since the first set of 2018 pool play.

STATE HOPEFULS

No area runner has advanced to the state cross country finals since Lapel's Luke Combs placed third in 2019, but there are several runners who could end that spell this fall. On the boys side, seniors Andrew Blake (Pendleton Heights) and Noah Price (Liberty Christian) and juniors Cameron Smith (Lapel) and Hunter Smith (Frankton) lead a strong field of hopefuls, while Daleville junior Faith Norris and Pendleton Heights sophomore state track finalist Ava Jarrell lead a young crop of talented area girls runners.

STILL STREAKING

Two of the most consistent programs over recent years play in the fall, and both the Lapel boys tennis team and the Liberty Christian soccer squad will look to continue their current run of success. Under coach Justin Coomer, the Bulldogs have won eight consecutive Madison County titles and nine straight sectional championships, and while they lost ace doubles tandem Corbin Renihan and Landon Bair to graduation, they are well-positioned to win again with Jacob Erwin and Isaac Bair back in the top two singles spots. The Lions have won three straight sectional championships — and four of the last five —and while Alt will need to replace star keeper Tyler Houk, he has returning offensive firepower in Josiah Cabello and Abraham Tapia.

SECTIONAL SHIFTS

In addition to Frankton's change in classification, many area teams will see new sectional fields this postseason. In football, 4A Sectional 22 adds New Palestine and Beech Grove to an already tough field that includes Mount Vernon and Pendleton Heights while the so-called "Madison County" 2A sectional has been broken up with Alexandria, Elwood and Frankton headed to Sectional 36 and Lapel rejoining Shenandoah in a tough Sectional 38 field. A similar change has occurred in volleyball as Elwood moves from 2A Sectional 40 and joins Madison-Grant in Sectional 39 with Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Wes-Del moving in with Lapel and Alexandria.

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.