Preseason expectations, whether high, low or in between, can work for or against a team.
Last boys basketball season, most of us alleged to be in the know predicted a rough year for Chesterton, 1-6 and tied for last in the Duneland Athletic Conference, Trojans senior Austin Peterson was quick to note.
On the surface, it made sense. Chesterton was young, it had a new coach (Marc Urban) and the rest of the DAC was senior-laden.
"Any time you take over a program, obviously there are going to be challenges," Urban said. "We knew going in expectations were going to be low. As young and inexperienced as we were, everything was so new and to the kids' credit, they did a great job buying in. They continued to grind, keep working and get better in a year the conference was really strong."
Urban did arguably the best coaching job in the area as the Trojans went 16-9 and 3-4 in the Duneland, all while regularly starting two juniors and a freshman with several other underclassmen coming off the bench. Three of the conference losses came by four points or less.
"Getting used to coach Urban took a while. He brought a lot more intensity to things," Peterson said. "Even in games we lost, like when we lost close to Merrillville, no one thought we had a chance. We had to play hard to prove people wrong."
The new season officially begins Monday and the landscape of the Duneland has changed dramatically. Almost everybody had wholesale graduation losses, some teams having to replace most if not all of their starting lineups. The exception? Chesterton. The Trojans return three starters and all of their bench, giving them nine or 10 players who have played varsity basketball.
"I do think we're deep," Urban said. "We played a lot of guys last year and we have a lot of guys who can play. The kids had really good summers. It's going to make practices competitive and fun. Obviously, expectations are going to be higher, which brings a whole new set of challenges. For us, we really have to be process oriented, take it day by day."
It'll be a few days before we put our predictions but I'll give you a little spoiler alert — the Trojans won't be tabbed for 1-6 and tie for last. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"It's exciting," Peterson said. "We've got a ton of chemistry back. We have a year of varsity experience, one through 10, and the JV looked really good throughout the summer. There's no doubt we're going to be good. We all have a good idea of our roles. It's just a matter of putting everything into game situations."
Like any competitor, Peterson relishes the prospect of being the team to beat and not the one to be beaten.
"I like it that way," he said. "We had a taste of the other end. I'd always rather be at the top than the bottom. We're going to have a pretty solid team. I have all the confidence in the world. A lot of people are expecting us to be very good, so we have to play as hard if not harder to prove people right. We don't want to let our guard down, take our foot off the pedal. We'd rather blow teams away than play down to their level and let them keep it close."
By now, it's common knowledge around town that Chesterton hasn't won a sectional title since 1987. Urban himself was a little kid. He knows about the drought. The kids know about the drought. It's a great potential story line that Chesterton is hosting the sectional this year. He also knows it's early November, far from the time for such talk, well, at least, by coaches and players.
"Guys are improved. I can keep going down the line," Urban said. "We also have to make sure we put it together and play connected. We can't change who we are just because people say we're supposed to be good. Time will tell."