The road to a sectional title has become one game shorter for teams in Class 5A and the newly-minted 6A, but the path of least resistance in the region may actually be in 2A.
With Andrean returning to 3A, the front door is now ajar for Boone Grove, Bowman Academy, Bishop Noll, North Judson, North Newton, Rensselaer, River Forest and Wheeler. The big dog is no longer on the porch.
"2A's open for anybody," Bearcats coach Tony Klimczak said.
Klimczak must feel like he went to Blue Chip and landed a royal flush. For the sake of two students, his outlook would be completely different. Wheeler, with an enrollment of 555, is the largest school in 2A, while Andrean, with 557, is the smallest in 3A. On top of that, perennial powerhouse Fort Wayne Luers has jumped up to 3A as a result of the success factor, the same formula that brings in Lafayette Central Catholic from A.
"We feel like we can match up with a Bremen-type team," Klimczak said of the 2A regional.
Wheeler won the sectional in 2011 with its once-in-a-career upset of Andrean, but the Niners dropped 63 on the Bearcats and 62 on Boone last year before holding off Rensselaer in the finals. Reclassification was likely the only thing that was going to prevent a string of titles by the 59ers. Now you've got several teams with a legitimate shot, and Klimczak would like to think it starts in Union Township, a claim that Chris Meeks could make with the Bombers as well.
"I'm not guaranteeing anything, but I'm not going to put any limits on what we can do," Klimczak said. "We're the biggest team in 2A. We need to live up to it. We've got expectations. We don't want to be just the biggest. We want to be the best, a combination of the biggest and best."
Jeff Cain might be saying the same thing in the Oil City. Whiting is the largest school in its class with 408 students. Class A is really up for grabs with Central Catholic, the winner of the last four state titles, no longer an obstacle.
South Bend St. Joseph's is now in 4A, but Andrean's route in 3A still features Mishawaka Marian, Jimtown and Luers.
Class 4A is now NWI's most heavily-populated division with 10 schools, eight in Sectional 17 and two in Sectional 18. It's been Morton's show the last five years and with 5A newcomers Mishawaka and Concord not in the picture anymore, somebody from our little corner could make a run.
In 5A, LaPorte's glad to be away from Penn, while Michigan City and Munster sure aren't upset to be out of the Duneland gauntlet. If one of them can figure out to beat Mishawaka, they could be hoisting a sectional trophy. Easier said than done.
In 6A, the good news for Chesterton, Portage and Valpo is they only have to win two games in Sectional 2. The bad news is one of them would probably have to be against Penn. Good luck with that. Fort Wayne Snider remains in 5A, but Carmel, Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern all come through the north in 6A, so there's that to look forward to in the semistate if Merrillville, the Fighting Gelens (L.C.) or Crown Point can get there.
What will it mean come Thanksgiving week? I like our chances to get someone to Indy for the first time since Lowell in 2009. Hey, Kirk Kennedy's back, right?