ST. JOHN — Before the season, Bryce Gross and Quentin Enyeart hadn't started a single match at center back in their combined four years at Lake Central.
Now, they're at the middle of one of the state's top defenses.
As Lake Central prepares for Saturday's Class 3A title bout against Zionsville, the Indians know they can rely on their back line. Gross, a well-built 6-foot-2 senior with a full beard, and Enyeart, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, have developed a consistent partnership after Enyeart shifted from outside back early in the season.
“We hadn't really played together at all,” Gross said. “At the beginning of the season, when we moved him to center back, we didn't necessarily understand each other the best as to how we've played. As we've started to understand each other better, we've played better together.”
Enyeart and Gross faced different challenges as they adjusted. While Enyeart played as a freshman, he didn't have experience playing center back at the high school level. He didn't have the classic strong, strapping center back build, either.
Thus, Enyeart started the year playing midfield. Rainwater said he realized he needed Enyeart in defense after a 4-0 opening loss to Crown Point, and LC's defense has steadily improved since.
Gross had the physical tools but had hardly played. He was stuck behind Nathan Thomas last season, and coach Jereme Rainwater said after LC's 2-1 semistate win over Noblesville that he didn't know what to expect from Gross entering the season.
LC's coaches considered pairing Enyeart with versatile junior Emilio Zambrano, but before long they realized Gross was more than good enough.
“He has never had the experience or the opportunity,” Rainwater said. “Slowly, we started to work on that partnership between him and Quentin. Then big game after big game, we kept on asking ourselves, 'Why are we nervous about Bryce? He has come up big again.'”
By late fall, college coaches started asking Rainwater about Gross' plans for next year. Gross said he isn't interested in playing at the next level, which means state could be his last competitive match.
While LC has allowed just one goal per match over its five postseason outings, Zionsville has an even more impressive season-long defensive record. The Eagles have allowed just 0.65 goals per match this season, although they allowed five over two regional wins.
Zionsville (18-0-0) plays a three-man back line, which Enyeart described as “really different” among prep teams. The Eagles rank No. 1 in the state coaches poll and start six seniors who experienced the pain of last year's last-minute loss to Chesterton at state.
Lake Central (12-5-3) will be making its first state appearance since 2010, when Rainwater led the Indians to a 2-0 win over Indianapolis Cathedral.
“I feel like there will be a lot of nerves,” Enyeart said. “For me, being a sophomore, it's a big deal. I don't know what it's gonna feel like, to be honest.”