Pioneer sectional realignment: From 2A to 1A in football, from 1A to 2A in volleyball, basketball
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Pioneer football team will not be staying in Class 2A after all. They are headed back down to Class 1A.
When the IHSAA initially released classifications on April 11, Pioneer was initially listed as returning to Class 2A.
When the sectional realignments were released Tuesday afternoon, Pioneer was listed as staying in Class 2A, Sectional 34.
Pioneer was bumped up from Class 1A to Class 2A based on the IHSAA Success Factor after the Jack Kiser-led Panthers won back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018. By winning a regional title in 2020, they stayed in Class 2A in 2021.
Pioneer lost in the 2021 Class 2A sectional final to LaVille 41-0. That meant that Pioneer did not accrue any Success Factor points for the 2021 season.
That is relevant given what the IHSAA also said in its April 11 media release: “Schools who failed to earn a point during the 2021-22 school year while playing in a higher class were returned to the next lower class for the next two years. This was to prevent schools from playing three consecutive years in a higher classification when their tournament results do not merit that placement.”
Pioneer was not listed among eight teams in various sports to whom this state applied.
But in fact, this ruling should have been applied to Pioneer, and the IHSAA released a new sectional realignment for Classes 1A and 2A late Tuesday to replace the initial erroneous realignment.
The application of the Success Factor does not apply to the girls basketball team at Pioneer. They played in Class 2A in 2021-22 due to the Success Factor and did not accumulate any points after falling in the sectional final. However, Pioneer will continue in Class 2A due to increased enrollment, and volleyball and boys basketball will join them in the higher class.
Here is how sectionals will look for all of Pioneer’s fall and winter teams covering the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years:
Pioneer’s rivals in Class 1A, Sectional 41 include Hoosier North rivals North Judson, Culver and Triton as well as Bowman Academy, North Newton, South Central (Union Mills) and South Newton.
Bowman Academy and North Newton move down from Class 2A to Class 1A due to declines in enrollment.
North Judson is the defending regional champion, but Pioneer has defeated the Blue Jays 14 consecutive times, including the 2015 and 2016 sectional finals.
In fact, none of the other teams in Sectional 41 have ever beaten Pioneer in a sectional game.
In addition to Pioneer and North Judson, North Newton (2017, 2A) and Triton (2018, 1A) have also won sectional titles within the last five years.
While Pioneer stays in Class 2A, it moves from Sectional 37 to Sectional 36. Lewis Cass and Wabash move with Pioneer to the new sectional, and North Miami and Winamac round out the five-team field.
North Miami is the only team in the field to have won a sectional last year, having won a 1A sectional at Northfield. North Miami’s season ended in the regional final against Lafayette Central Catholic. Like Pioneer, North Miami moves up to Class 2A based on increased enrollment.
Like Pioneer’s Jeff Brooke, Winamac’s Tony Stesiak is also a former state championship coach, having guided Rochester to the 2004 Class 2A state crown.
Pioneer eliminated Wabash from the 2022 sectional in the semifinals.
The Lady Panthers are expected to return Ashlynn Brooke, who led the state in scoring and made 3-pointers in 2021-22.
The winner of Sectional 36 will likely feed into the Winamac regional. Pioneer’s previous sectional fed into the Frankton regional.
Carroll (Flora), the team that defeated Pioneer in last year’s sectional final was placed in Sectional 38 along with 2022 Class 1A state runner-up Lafayette Central Catholic and two-time defending sectional champion Clinton Prairie.
While the Pioneer girls will be participating in the 2A state tournament for the second straight year, Pioneer has not participated in the boys state tournament since losing to Eastern (Greentown) in the 1999 sectional semifinals.
That will change as Pioneer is now in Class 2A, Sectional 36. Lewis Cass, North Miami, Rochester, Wabash and Hoosier North rival Winamac round out the field.
There are no defending sectional champions in the new sectional.
Pioneer has lost their last five meetings against Lewis Cass and their last two meetings against North Miami but won their last three meetings against Winamac. They also beat Rochester the last time they played them in December 2018.
Coach Darren McKaig’s Panthers graduate all five starters that lost in the sectional final to North White on March 5.
Coach Rod Nies’ Lady Panthers won 15 straight sectionals from 2006-20 in Class 1A. They also collected eight regionals, two semistates and the state title in 2020 along the way.
Southwood ended their run of sectional dominance last fall, and now Pioneer will start along the 2A tournament path due to increased enrollment.
Like boys basketball, it’s a six-team field in Class 2A, Sectional 36 that also includes Lewis Cass, North Miami, Rochester, Wabash and Winamac.
Rochester has 22 sectional titles, most of any in the field, including one as recently as 2020. Pioneer has won 17 sectionals all time.
Wabash has won a sectional as recently as 2019.
Pioneer graduates Hailey Cripe and Mackenzie Robinson from last year’s team that went 7-0 in the Hoosier North, but they are expected to return all-conference players Mandee Weisenburger and Mackenzie Rogers and honorable mention all-conference player Brooklyn Borges.