BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. - Western and Northwestern were crowned the king and queen of the Mid-Indiana Conference following a competitive 2013-2014 school year – the next to last for the conference. In the MIC Boys All-Sports championship race, the Panthers cruised to the title with 71.5 points. Hamilton Heights was second with 58.5, followed by Northwestern (45.5), Lewis Cass and Maconaquah (42), Peru (38.5), Eastern (35.5) and Taylor (21.5).
Of the 10 MIC boys sports, Western claimed championship titles in half: cross country, swimming, track and field, baseball and football. They also earned second place finishes in soccer, wrestling and golf and took a third place in basketball.
“You have to give credit to our student-athletes and the coaches and their hard work,” said Western Athletic Director Josh Larsh. “They have a passion for what they do. Obviously, talent is part of that equation, but it is not the whole thing. If you look across the board, we were first or second in most of the 10 sports. The football team winning in the fall carried us all the way to the baseball and track team winning in the spring.”
Larsh said winning the all-sports conference crown shows how strong the Western program is from the top to the bottom. He noted the girls program was six points from the title.
“It shows the depth of Western athletics,” said Larsh. “But in that depth, we have great student-athletes. We also had a phenomenal senior class. And now we are getting more consistent on the girls side. I believe success-breeds-success, and we are starting to see that. We are proud of it and we strive to win it every year.”
Western has had a strong three-year run in athletics, beginning with a baseball state championship in 2012. He attributes part of that to a generation that only knows to compete in class sports.
“I think it starts with tradition,” said Larsh. “We have a great athletic tradition here. I think those who are in high school now, all they know is class sports. All they do is dream of state championships and the baseball team was the first to break through. We won in baseball, and we had a couple of kids wrestle in the state finals (Hinkle brothers), and then the Brown family in the state swim finals. And then a girls basketball group that has been together their whole lives – their dream was to win a state championship, which they did. The tradition is growing.”
In the race for the MIC Girls All-Sports championship, Northwestern edged Western 56-50 in a season that saw the top four schools separated by a mere nine points. Hamilton Heights finished third (49) and Eastern fourth (48) in the nine-sport title race. Maconaquah finished fifth (35), followed by Lewis Cass (33), Peru (27) and Taylor (18). The Lady Tigers claimed titles in golf and track and field, finished second in swimming and earned a third place finish in volleyball, basketball and softball.
“It is an honor,” Northwestern Athletic Director Dan Armstrong said of the girls title. “It was fun. I didn’t even know going into our meeting that we had won it because it was so close. Our goal every year is to be solid, and we are good in a lot of sports. Eastern had quite a run for the last three years, so it was good to get it back in our hands.”
Armstrong said that winning an all-sports title is about every athlete doing the job they are supposed to do.
“You don’t have to win every sport, you just have to be at the top,” he said. “We had some good teams this year – from the fall to the spring. It is a credit to how hard our girls work – it takes a lot of athletes to win an all-sports title.
Armstrong said this year’s all-sports title has extra meaning with the conference dropping a sport the Lady Tigers had always excelled in – gymnastics.
“We lost gymnastics as a sport in the conference a few years ago, and we always did well in that,” he said. “So we had to get better in some sports, such as track and softball, to win it. Our softball team has made great strides and were right there with Eastern and Western. Those spring sports just took us over the top.”
The upcoming 2014-2015 school year will be the final sports season of existence for the Mid-Indiana Conference as all eight schools have announced plans to leave: Peru and Maconaquah will move to the Three Rivers Conference while Eastern and Taylor will play in the Hoosier Heartland Conference. The remaining four schools – Northwestern, Western, Hamilton Heights and Lewis Cass – recently announced they will join the Hoosier Conference. That will set up an interesting sports season as every team will be vying for the last MIC title in history.
“Just because we lost a very good senior class doesn’t mean we won’t be trying to win it one last time in the MIC,” said Larsh. “I think it is going to fire a lot of people up and it will be an interesting year in the conference.”
Armstrong agrees, while also noting he is sad the conference is disbanding.
“I am a tradition guy, and I wished it would have stayed the same,” he said. “There will be a little bit on the line this year. You want to be the champion of the last one. There will be some pushing to make sure they are at the top. Our kids will know it is the last year and they will want to be the last champion.”
The final year of the Mid-Indiana Conference begins in August, and it should prove to be an amazing – and interesting – 19-sport campaign.