Years ago, Lake Central's boys soccer team used to train on the back field, behind their stadium. It's somewhat sequestered from the rest of LC's athletic venues and has no amenities aside from the basic surface.
This year, coach Jereme Rainwater had his team return to training on the old field. The decision was part of a multi-layered motivational tactic as LC sought to restart its 15-year sectional title streak that ended in 2018.
As part of the scheme, Rainwater had players download "Rocky III" from Netflix to watch on the bus trip to Mishawaka for regionals. In the film, the titular boxer gets knocked out by trash-talking challenger Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T.
Rocky trains for a rematch with Apollo Creed, his old rival who offers up a rundown facility that doesn't appear fit to host a rich and famous former heavyweight champ. But the humbled Rocky trains there anyway and ultimately reclaims his title from Lang.
Rainwater, The Times Coach of the Year, equated Rocky's journey to Lake Central's. That's why LC trained in the back in as private and sequestered an atmosphere as he could find. The Indians say it's one reason they advanced to their first state final since 2010.
“We were able to relate it to Rocky in a way where we accomplished what Rocky accomplished by beating Mr. T by going old school like Apollo,” junior midfielder Emilio Zambrano. “Little things like that — his knowledge and his way to compare stuff — is amazing.”
Assistant coach Eric Graves said Rainwater is a big fan of the “Rocky” series, but he spun his own interest into an effective motivational tool. Rainwater's success, however, wasn't limited to his ability to galvanize his players.
With so many players coming out for the team, Graves says LC faces a huge undertaking every year as it evaluates the many players in its program — even those who ultimately get cut. Rainwater has long since incorporated a detailed injury prevention program, and he credited his coaching staff for steady improvement throughout the year and a healthy roster come postseason.
“Especially in practice, everything is done with significance,” senior midfielder Rob MacNeill said. “Everything needs to be done properly, it needs to be done with effort, and it helped me build who I am.”
Still, LC faced a difficult postseason path. The Indians beat ISCA top 10 teams Northridge and Noblesville en route to state, and Zambrano singled out Rainwater's tactics from the Northridge win.
The Raiders had just handed Chesterton its first loss since 2017 in the regional semifinals earlier in the day. Speedy winger Cameron Chappell caused the Trojans all kinds of problems, and LC was looking for an edge somewhere in its attack.
Tre Adams took Chappell out of the match, and Rainwater dug up an advantageous matchup while watching film between games. LC played its midfielders wider than usual to attack the Raiders' outside backs and ultimately claimed a 2-1 win to advance to semistate.
“I think that little, slight move got us where we are and how far we went,” Zambrano said. “He always broke down each team and made not big adjustments, but the slightest adjustments to win each game.”
LC went 12-6-3, returns the bulk of its team next season and should contend for the Duneland Athletic Conference title. The Indians will have to guard against complacency but return seven starters and plenty of key reserves.
MacNeill said Rainwater's unconventional approach to motivating players hasn't failed him yet. With a sharp squad and plenty of depth, 2020 could be another banner year for LC.
“The future is very, very bright,” MacNeill said.