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Royal football rivalry in the making

Trojans striker Gage Torres-Renier celebrates his goal against Valpo in the 2021 group game at Chesterton.  TOM KEEGAN / photo

Trojans striker Gage Torres-Renier celebrates his goal against Valpo in the 2021 group game at Chesterton. TOM KEEGAN / photo

The hottest high school sports events tend to start because of geography and overall conference membership.

Most, not all.

Looking into the near future, it’s easy to see the possibility of a new, intense boys’ football rivalry emerging from the IHSAA sectional reorganization that will take effect in the fall and last for at least two years.

Penn High is located in Mishawaka, 61 miles east of Chesterton High. The Kingsmen play at the Northern Indiana Conference, the Trojans at the Duneland Sports Conference.

When the IHSAA released its division list, which included Chesterton and Merrillville in football, dropping from 6A to 5A, it was easy to deduce that Chesterton would play in the football section with LaPorte, Michigan City and Valparaiso.

The reorganization of the 3A boys’ football section was not so easy to predict. In fact, it came as a shock when it turned out that the Trojans would be in a division with Penn, and not in the same division as neighbor Valparaiso or conference rival Crown Point.

Chesterton's Josh Wadowski has certainly never shied away from the physical aspect of football.  TOBY GENTRY / photo

Chesterton’s Josh Wadowski has certainly never shied away from the physical aspect of football. TOBY GENTRY / photo

Penn and Chesterton were joined by LaPorte, Michigan City, New Prairie, South Bend Adams and South Bend Riley.

“I didn’t expect this,” said CHS athletic director Jeff Hamstra.

“Dazzled,” said Chesterton boys football coach Lucas Sabedra. “I felt like we should have heard something even before it was announced, but it kind of stunned everyone in the region: me, the head coaches from Valpo, Crown Point. All the South Bend coaches were also very surprised, so no one heard anything about the change.”

Sabedra said he didn’t ask anyone for an explanation.

— No, what are you saying at this time? He said. “It’s already gone. It’s already in print.”

Sabedra reacted to this news in the same way that he reacts to every test he puts before his team. He accepted it.

“It’s just a change. I think the rivalry we have with Crown Point and Valpo will be taken out of the equation. These are very emotional games and there is always an obstacle to overcome,” said Sabedra. “Now that it’s gone, things will be different. Competitive level of play against a school like Penn, if we draw them and play them at any time, they will be very good. So you have to expect to play one of the best teams in the state.”

Chesterton football coach Lucas Sabedra will be counting on outstanding defender Caden Donnellon to play more heads-up games like this game against Valparaiso in the 2021 group game, beating the Trojans 2-0.

Chesterton football coach Lucas Sabedra will be counting on outstanding defender Caden Donnellon to play more heads-up games like this game against Valparaiso in the 2021 group game, beating the Trojans 2-0.

Sabedra has not placed Penn in this category at times.

“Always,” he said. “Is always.”

Last fall, the schools drew 1-1 at Chesterton. Sabedra said he had discussed the reorganization with Eric Bowers, Penn’s coach since 2010.

“We know each other pretty well. We talk a lot before and after the games and we were both shocked that this happened,” Sabedra said. “It’s interesting because we’ve already added them to the schedule. You add a level of competition and you get to know them a little more. Like last year, we equalized them and if we played them in a section we would know how intense it would be in the game. It would be a match that both teams would really stand up for.”

Sabedra always speaks with confidence when discussing the abilities of his players, and this seems to permeate competitive athletes armed with a firm belief that they will win. In his four seasons at the helm of his alma mater’s boys’ football program, Sabedra compiled an overall record of 77-5-12 and 27-1 in regular season DAC games.

A year ago, at this same time, from the outside looking in, it was only natural to suspect that the Trojans were in danger of losing productivity after winning two state championships in Sabedra’s first three seasons. In the end, the Trojans were to remain an elite without their outstanding goaltender and penalty shooter Charlie Eaton, goal-scoring machine Zach Bowser (40 goals) and the all-around outstanding Nick Beale, a skilled facilitator, scorer and devastating force to opposing hitters.

Sabedra and his players focused on who was coming back rather than who was gone, played with the highest confidence and remained dominant. The Trojans were second in the state for most of the season, leading 17-2-1 and one of the last four football teams left before losing 5-0 to eventual state champion Noblesville.

Thirteen alumni have graduated, most notably Liam Grimes, Ryan O’Dell and Jacob Perkins. They played in harmony with relentless, infectious effort.

Sabedra knew how well this team would play. Nothing changed.

“I feel the same about this band. If everyone has a head on their shoulders and they’re ready to go, which I know they will be, we’ll always have a good group coming back,” Sabedra said. “We have 11 high schoolers coming back and five or six of them were fresh sophomores so they know what it all means and how to prepare for it.”

Goaltender Ethan Baedeker returns for his second year at the start.

Other rising older players with a lot of experience include Caden Donnella, Matteo Guerrero, Gage Kruper, Josh Wadowski and Gage Torres-Renier.

“Our starting juniors John Covalan, Sebastian Cogle and Mason Bernal are completely different from last year’s club seasons,” Sabedra said. “They play at a very competitive level and are top players in their teams, so it’s all right.”

Michael Shumate scored a hat-trick on his debut for the team last season and led the team in goals.

“We always have younger guys who train all the time at the university, so this will not be something new for them,” Sabedra said. “They just have to calm down at the start of the season.”

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