Southwestern soccer easily could have fallen into a rebuilding mode. The roster did not appear to be ready for a reload to chase another sectional championship.
What Taylor Meredith did was restructure his roster after graduation took five seniors, including the school’s all-time leading scorer in Aiden Hartsell.
“I don’t know if it is more satisfying because they are all awesome,” said Meredith after Class A, No. 17 Southwestern won its third-straight sectional title Saturday night, 2-1 over Indianapolis Lutheran. “When I took the job, (winning) a sectional was the goal.
“The first sectional (win), I was an eighth grader (2006). The second sectional (2016), I was an assistant coach the year before and took a year off and came back to coach a year after. So I missed both sectionals by a year. So winning a sectional was the goal.”
Southwestern (13-2-2) will host a regional semifinal contest Wednesday at 6 p.m. against Class A, No. 11 Covenant Christian (8-9-3). The winner advances to the regional championship match Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Knightstown High School to face either Greenwood Christian Academy (8-7-3) or No. 20 Oldenburg Academy (11-7-1).
With Aiden Hartsell’s 46-goal senior season in the rear view mirror, Southwestern had to find offensive output in 2022. So naturally Meredith turned to a defender.
Senior Garreth Stringer switched ends of the field and led the Spartans this season with 23 goals and six assists.
“This was a lot of fun,” said Stringer. “At the beginning of the season we didn’t know how anything was going to go. We had a bunch of questions about who would be the goalkeeper? How would we score? How far would we get into the postseason?
“I don’t think any of us thought winning a sectional was a possibility until we started playing.”
Southwestern had an experienced goalkeeper returning in senior Eli Fix but sophomore Michael Clements emerged as the top choice – one endorsed by Fix.
“We knew Eli and Michael were good and both are too athletic to have on the bench,” said Meredith. “We talked about that and they went back and forth all summer. Before our first practice, Eli came to me and said you need to give it Michael. He deserves it. And he has been phenomenal.”
Fix has two goals and two assists this season working away from the goal while Southwestern has allowed just 19 goals in 17 matches this season.
Stringer answered the question who would score for Southwestern this season. Twin brother Owen is tied for second on the team with six goals.
“(My role) changed a lot because I played back in the back last year, so I got moved all the way up to forward,” said Garreth Stringer. “It was definitely a little bit of a change but it was fun to do so.”
Southwestern’s leading scorer did not have a goal in the sectional championship match. It was Owen Stringer that struck first for Southwestern just four minutes into the match.
Constant Martinez added his fifth goal of the season inside the final 10 minutes of the contest to make it 2-0. Both goals were set up by senior Jonah DeArmitt, who found himself playing more minutes than ever this season.
DeArmitt’s free kick bounced around in front of the Lutheran goal and Stringer spun quickly and struck to beat the Lutheran goalkeeper for the early lead.
DeArmitt’s second-half throw-in reached Martinez inside the goalkeeper’s box and he flicked it to the far post for the game’s second goal.
“Jonah has stepped up so much this year,” said Meredith. “He was kind of our 12th man a couple years in a row. The first year, he had a chance at starting and Johnny Joy came and bumped him back down. Last year, Jonah was ready to start and Tucker Simmons moved in and knocked him to No. 12 again.
“He has been waiting for this for awhile and it’s awesome.”
DeArmitt has six goals and five assists this season. Simmons also has six goals and eight assists.
Covenant Christian has allowed more goals (41) than it has scored (28) against a formidable schedule.
Five of the Warriors’ nine losses have come to state-ranked teams, including Class 2A, No. 3 Brebeuf (6-0), 2A No. 7 Heritage Christian (2-1), 2A No. 8 Speedway (4-1) and 2A No. 13 Providence (2-0).
Covenant Christian closed out its regular-season schedule with a 1-0 loss to Class A, No. 2 Park Tudor before sweeping through the Bethesda Christian Sectional with wins over Riverside (6-2), No. 15 Providence Cristo Rey (3-0) and Bethesda Christian (3-1).
Southwestern wrapped up its regular season with a 3-2 win at Bethesda Christian.
The Warriors are led in scoring by junior Josh Byrd with 12 goals and seven assists.
Senior Austin Humbert and sophomore Caleb McCrory each had three goals for the low-scoring Warriors.
Senior goalkeeper Angelo Luca has 101 saves this season and allows 2.2 goals per contest.