ARGOS — It’s funny how things work out.
Argos’ girls soccer team was tied 1-1 with Boone Grove in the final minute of their sectional championship game Saturday afternoon in DeMotte. If Jami Patterson hadn’t been able to put away the game-winner with 34 seconds on the clock, the Lady Dragons might not have gotten to Culver in time to catch the final minutes of the boys’ sectional title rematch with Bremen later in the day. And if they hadn’t been there, the Dragons, who were knotted in a 0-0 stalemate with the Lions, might not have gotten the boost they needed in the game’s homestretch.
Instead, Patterson scored on a Charlie Horn assist to clinch Argos’ girls a repeat sectional championship over the Wolves, and the Lady Dragons arrived at Culver in time to cheer their boys team to its own sectional championship repeat as Damon Binkley one-touched a high bounce on a Sean Mullaney service into the Bremen box with 38 ticks remaining in regulation, and both Argos soccer teams celebrated dual sectional titles a second straight year.
“It was pretty interesting. We started the girls game at I think 3 o’clock Eastern Time, and we knew the boys started at 5 and it was about an hour drive to Culver and it would be tough to get there. When we were playing it was a situation where anybody watching probably felt like OK, Argos has got the upper hand, but they just can’t separate themselves. It was a pretty dramatic finish,” said Argos girls soccer coach/ Athletic Director Jon Alcorn.
“We got on the bus excited of course, and they’re all taking pictures and we said ‘OK, here’s the plan now. We’re all going to go back and we’re hoping to get back with about 10 minutes left in the boys game.’ When we were en route we were getting updates all the time — 0-0, 0-0, 0-0 — and of course, there’s not much to cheer about. When we were getting pretty close we got a text from a friend of mine who’s son is playing, and it said ‘Hey, we’re kind of flat, make sure you get off the bus yelling. We need a boost.’ So you could probably hear us coming, and I know some of the boys said it gave them a boost. They were all in the corner there, and the big score was right in front of us, so we had a great view of it. That was certainly something pretty exciting.”
With repeat sectional titles under their belts, the Argos soccer teams are now eyeing a repeat of last year’s dual regional championship finish. The boys open tonight against Carroll (Flora) in a Caston Regional semifinal at 5 p.m. with the winner advancing to play the winner of the late semifinal between Peru and Oak Hill in the championship Saturday at 7 p.m. The girls will host a two-team regional opposite Wheeler at home at Eugene Snyder Field at 4 p.m. Saturday.
As one of the first two soccer programs in the state — along with Culver Military back in 1963 when the two teams played one another three times with a 1-1-1 split — Argos soccer is hoping to add to an already storied history this week, and the programs have the community behind them.
“Here we’ve got grandfathers that have played soccer. There aren’t very many communities that can say, like they do in basketball, where kids can say grandpa played soccer too,” said Alcorn. “It’s definitely part of the fabric and something a little unique. We try to play some Friday night games because it’s something we can do since we don’t have football. Most schools can’t do that because if you have football you’ve got to pay those bills. When I came here to take the job, that’s something I learned right away was the soccer tradition we have here, and it’s something they’re pretty excited about.”
While Argos’ soccer program goes back five decades, when asked about the Dragons’ recent success, boys coach Todd Van Der Weele points to a change in the feeder system only about 10 years ago when coaches and parents began a deliberate attempt to keep the sport fun for the kids. That in turn has led to higher numbers as more players stay in the program as well as a greater number of club and year-round players.
“We don’t have football, so the kids start playing young. They play their whole life, basically,” said Van Der Weele, a former Argos player himself. “I think the program all the way through the recreation level, the first thing that they push is the fun. That builds the enthusiasm that it’s supposed to be fun, it’s not supposed to be screaming and yelling and work. I think what you’re seeing now is a dedicated push from parents and coaches about 10 years ago to get these kids to play at a higher level, and I think it’s paying off. There are kids that play all year round now, and of course that makes a big difference to the soccer program. But it’s all centered around fun. It’s a big deal when you’re a kid to get that Argos Youth Soccer shirt and wear it to school.”
One obstacle the Dragons are facing at tonight’s game is the Caston field.
A converted football field much narrower than the one the team is used to playing on, it took players awhile to adjust in last year’s regional tournament. While many players are back from that 2011 championship lineup, the Caston pitch is likely to force some adjustments again tonight.
“The field is obviously a challenge. It’s a football field; it’s always hard to play on a football field,” Van Der Weele said. “A football field is certain dimensions, soccer is meant to be played on a field a lot wider, and we’re playing on a field that I wouldn’t say is unplayable, but this is definitely a challenge.”
Although the Lady Dragons have the good fortune of playing on their home field this weekend, the girls team has had to make some adjustments of its own for Wheeler.
In last Saturday’s championship win over Boone Grove, Argos’ girls were able to mark up on a few key players to seal the tight victory. At first glance, Wheeler looks like a much more balanced team, and the Lady Dragons have been trying out some new formations this week to throw the Bearcats a few different looks should the need arise.
“We were able to scout Wheeler once this year, and my assistant coach got a pretty good look at them. Comparing them to Boone Grove, our previous opponent, probably the biggest difference is Boone Grove would have been kind of a star-driven team,” said Alcorn. “Right up the middle they were pretty strong. My coach’s take on Wheeler is that they don’t maybe have the stars, but they’re just really solid all around. They’re going to be probably bigger than us physically and maybe faster overall, but we’re kind of used to that.”
“The big difference is in the sectional championship game we marked their best player, but I don’t think in this game we’re going to try to mark anyone,” he continued. “I think they’re just more of a team; they don’t have any stars, but they don’t have many weak spots either.”