FISHERS — Lake Central coach Jereme Rainwater never lacks for creative motivational tactics.
LC lost five regular-season matches and entered the postseason outside the top 20 in the ISCA poll. The Indians were just third in the Duneland Athletic Conference.
When it came to advancing deep in the postseason, they were underdogs. Prior to LC's regional semifinal match on October 19, Rainwater had the team watch “Rocky” as the Indians prepared for a road that would be full of highly ranked teams if LC advanced.
Just two weeks later, Lake Central found itself with a one-goal lead in the Class 3A state title game Saturday against undefeated Zionsville. But it wasn't enough. Zionsville scored three straight goals in the second half to claim the title.
“We came together a lot as a team,” senior defender Bryce Gross said. “Like, at the beginning of the season we weren't that close. … By the end of the season, we were pretty much a family.”
Lake Central wanted redemption after surrendering the sectional title for the first time in 15 years, and it got more than that. After beating Morton to reclaim the sectional, the Indians outplayed ISCA top 10 teams Northridge and Noblesville on the way to state.
Zionsville ranked first in the ISCA poll all season after narrowly falling to Chesterton in last year's state title match, while Lake Central wasn't in the top 20. Gross said he realized early on that the Eagles were the more athletic team, but LC stayed up off the mat even as Zionsville controlled play early.
Sophomore forward Jakob Noldin volleyed home with his off foot to make it 1-0 Lake Central with 26 minutes remaining. Zionsville equalized eight minutes later on a long shot from Chris Freeman, then Alex Carr slotted home a misplayed LC clearance 30 seconds later.
“To say that it was a bad minute would be taking away from those guys,” Rainwater said. “I think that a team like Zionsville that was here last year, undefeated this year, they weren't leaving this game with anything less.”
Ben Weidner added a third late goal to clinch the win. Rainwater said LC (12-6-3) needed to control possession against such a talented opponent, and eventually Zionsville (21-0-0) found a way through.
Gross led an LC defense that allowed just 1.2 goals per game this season and won the C. Eugene Cato Mental Attitude Award to show for it.
“Couldn't happen to a better kid,” Rainwater said. “Immediately when we got the paperwork, I didn't have to hesitate. When I saw that we had an option to nominate someone, I feel like this is a kid who has fit that role for his entire career here at Lake Central. He has been a role model this year, and I'm extremely proud of him and happy for him.”
Rainwater said the team grew up this season, and LC projects to return seven starters, including leading goal-scorer Emilio Zambrano. The senior starters that depart all play different positions, so the foundation should remain in place.
What impact does Gross hope those seniors had?
“The next couple years that they stay at the top,” Gross said. “And we just left a good mark and showed them how to win, showed them how to get to the state finals.”