ST. JOHN | In 2004, Jeff Sherman was a 23-year-old neophyte getting his start as an assistant alongside legendary Lake Central softball coach Keith Hauber.
Sherman was fresh out of college, and admitted he had a lot to learn at that stage in his coaching career. However, one aspect of Lake Central softball that Sherman witnessed during his only season as an assistant was its history of being an absolutely dominant program -- not just in the Region -- but throughout Indiana.
The Indians beat Center Grove 4-1 in the 2004 Class 4A state championship and captured their last sectional title in 2006.
Last season, the Indians finished 24-6 and lost to Lowell in its opening game of the Highland Sectional under interim coach Glenn Eisfelder.
Now, after five seasons as a baseball assistant under Todd Iwema, Sherman has taken the reins of the softball team with the weight of the program resting squarely on his shoulders. However, Sherman insists he's ready to bring the program back to its elite status.
"It's a good time for me to come in," he said. "I pulled our seniors aside in the fall and told them, 'Look, we've never had a class go through and not win a sectional championship.' It's not hard to notice the history when you walk into our gym and we're the only sport that has multiple state championship banners.
"We've won 17 sectional championships. I'm hoping these girls realize 18 is the most important one."
The determination and competitiveness Sherman possesses has trickled down to his players. Senior Sarah Ranieri is eager to help her team bounce back to its winning ways.
"We plan on changing that this year," she said. "Sectionals are at home, so we want to go out and win it. We all wanted to work hard in the offseason, so we don't have a repeat of last season."
Sherman admits to feeling added pressure given the history of the program -- and the enormous shoes he'll undoubtedly have to fill with Hauber's legacy still fresh in the minds of many fans.
"The added pressure comes from the legacy of Tom Linger and Keith Hauber," Sherman said. "They've laid the foundation for what this program has become. I don't want to let those guys down. 'Haub' let me do a lot that year as an assistant, which really prepared me well to coach softball."
Sherman increased the weightlifting regimen for his players in the offseason, and Tuesday's 11-2 win over Munster seemed to be a byproduct of it, as the Indians pounded out 17 total hits.
Sherman said he would classify himself as a motivational coach who pushes his players. It's that type of push that senior Nichole Szczerbowski has used as fuel for the fire -- the fire being a greater determination to help bring Lake Central back to greatness.
"It's huge motivation," Szczerbowski said. "I'd really like to win a sectional because it would be a really nice touch to my senior year. I'm really appreciative of how motivated (Sherman) is. He really wants to bring the tradition back."
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More inside, online
Read scouting reports on the local softball teams and see who made The Times' Top 10 poll. PAGE B4 and nwi.com/sports
Wheeler standout Lanay Parks looks to lead Bearcats back to state finals. nwi.com/sports