By Mark Morrow — HSE Royals Sports Media
The Royals boys soccer team didn’t finish the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Class 3A coaches’ association poll.
But at No. 2, HSE is the highest ranked team still in the hunt, still alive with championship
Coach Chris White and his Royals, who did hold the No. 1 spot in the state poll for a brief time, are coming off a third successive sectional championship.
Something else they can hang their hat on is the fact that the HCC-champion Royals (5-0-1) are the lone boys soccer conference member still kicking in the state tournament.
The Royals open the Kokomo Regional on Saturday at noon, meeting Fort Wayne Northrop. Harrison and Warsaw do battle at 10 a.m, and the semifinal winners vie for the championship and a trip to the semi state at 7 p.m.
If successful in the regional, the Royals would continue their journey North and would meet the South Bend St. Joseph’s winner on Oct. 21 in the semi state. State would be contested Oct. 27-28.
The only time HSE boys soccer went to the final four was White’s second year in 2012. That was in Class 2A. The new IHSAA format this season is a 3-class tournament.
So, the goal is still winning, reaching the final 4 and then bringing home a state championship in 3A!
“We have accomplished almost every goal we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season, except for 2 (these are still a possibility). Winning HCC was a first for HSE boys soccer and one that we are extremely proud of,’’ said White. “We won our third (straight) sectional and understand there are very good teams in our sectional, so we are fortunate to have earned that championship again.
“However, this team wants . . . and is capable of more.
White said that FW North is very good and underrated, that it’s a young but athletic team.
And if HSE wins the regional opener, facing either Warsaw or Harrison, White said that each would have their own story line.
Not only did HSE lose to Warsaw 2-1 in overtime at State in 2012, “But Warsaw’s assistant coach (James Hornaday) is the all-time leading scorer for HSE, and his younger brother (John Hornaday) is our freshman coach,’’ White said. “Warsaw also comes down to scrimmage us during the summer when we are at our team camp at Taylor University.
“If we win and face (Lafayette) Harrison, it will be the third straight year that we will have faced each other in the regional round. Harrison has won the last two years, both times by 2-1 scores.’’
You’ve got to figure that, in all likelihood, it’s going to take a pretty good team to derail the Royals this time.
HSE has been pretty dominant in 2017, ending the regular season with an 18-1-2 record.
The Royals lost to No. 12 Penn in the Penn Tournament after playing Crown Point to a scoreless tie in the tourney opener. The other tie was 1-1 against HCC foe Zionsville, ranked No. 1 in the final coaches’ association poll but a loser in a sectional opener to No. 9 Guerin Catholic.
White and company reached the regional championship game last season and finished the year with a 15-3-4 record.
And the Royals are much more experienced and deeper this season. They’re also a very “together’’ squad.
And they’ve also had to deal with some injuries to a couple of key starters this season.
Senior Matt Kuster, last season’s leading scorer, suffered an ankle injury on Sept. 12. Unfortunately he also suffered a broken leg in the final regular-season game on Sept. 26.
“It was a high ankle sprain on his left leg in the Westfield game. He missed most of that game and the next 2 games. He came back on limited minutes for the LN (Lawrence North) and Noblesville games to end the regular season before the broken leg against Noblesville.’’
Certainly a huge loss, even for a team as deep as HSE.
“Yes, it was a big loss as he was our leading scorer at the time and he is an emotional leader for us. However, our team still feels confident that we can get the job done without him on the field.’’
“Ben Haxton (our starting keeper) was lost for the same 3 games as Kuster was. During that time, Michael Flores Rodriguez stepped into the goal for us and did a great job (0.49 GAA in 12 games), but Haxton has been back for the last 4 games.’’
Haxton has allowed 9 goals in 15 games, recorded 33 saves and has pitched 7 shutouts. He has a 0.71 GAA.
White said his team has a great deal of depth . . . and much more chemistry than a year ago.
“Last year, we had a very good team, but the chemistry wasn’t what it needed to be. This year, we have a collective group that remains close on and off the field.
“We play 6 field players off the bench that play almost as many minutes as the starters (I am subbing players in a platoon fashion for the first time in my coaching career). The bench players and starters have all bought into the idea of 1 team competing together.
“This team has overcome so many injuries and setbacks to continue to find a way to succeed game-in and game-out.
“Our team has been able to score goals this year, but the strength of the team has always been and still is the defense. Ethan Pulliam is a 4-year starter at center back. Cale Barnes and Tyler White are seniors that bring plenty of experience as well, but just do not have many stats to go with it.’’
Darian Ghaffari leads the Royals in scoring with with 36 points. Kuster finished with 26, while junior Chayton Davison has 18, followed by Cale Barnes (12), Kevin Leffers (11) and Sean Williams (10).
““It is a really enjoyable group of young men to coach. It also makes it special to have my nephew (Tyler White) and my son (junior Jacob White) being contributors on this team.
White added: “No matter what lies ahead, this team is confident that together, they can overcome anything and find a way to succeed.
“We are excited to represent HSE, our conference, and our sectional moving forward!’’
*—Mark Morrow, who has resided in Fishers since 1989, formerly owned Hamilton County Sports Daily. He was inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters-Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 2015. He has blogged exclusively for hseroyalsathletics.com since 2016.