Breaking down the whats and whys of Center Grove’s success to date is an endeavor that tends to branch off in a number of directions.
Senior Chase Stoneburner is one such branch, while two of his junior teammates, Keaton Barnhizer and Matheus Gubert, have also been integral contributors.
Each player brings his own unique set of positives to the Trojans’ program in terms of skills on the pitch, leadership on and off it and even the vague and oft-overused sports reference point known as intangibles.
Their ability to mesh has been crucial for a team (7-0-2) that has moved all the way up to No. 3 in the Class 3A poll.
“You play defense on the back line, but you also play defense through the midfield through the attack. Our defensive effort this year has been incredible,” Stoneburner said. “Running to balls. Stopping balls. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to play.
“We’ve struggled in the past on the defensive effort, definitely. Our midfield is strong this year. Our back line is strong, and our attack is also strong. It’s really been an effort thing.”
Stoneburner, a center back in his final season of competitive soccer, has been a driving force in making sure teammates are in the correct spots and ready to go.
Center Grove outscored the opposition by a sum of 32-5 over its first nine matches, the lone steps from perfection being a 1-1 tie against 3A No. 7 Columbus North on Aug. 29, and Thursday night’s 2-2 deadlock against No. 14 Cathedral.
Senior Ely Detty leads Center Grove in scoring with 17 goals and five assists in his fourth season as a starter. Gubert, a forward who moved to the area from Mexico two years ago, is second with six goals and five assists going into the Trojans’ home match tonight against perpetual thorn in the side Perry Meridian.
“The way I play is kind of different,” Gubert said of what his coach admiringly refers to as Brazilian flare. “I really enjoy being on this team. It’s something that made me connect with people and make a lot of friends. It was 10 times easier than it would be if I was not on the team.”
Center Grove coach Jameson McLaughlin is impressed with how Detty and Gubert have jelled this season.
“He complements Ely really well, and they play together very, very well. It’s fun to watch them,” he said. “They already are starting to get kind of a sixth sense to where each other are. I think as the season progresses they’re going to be really hard to deal with.”
Center Grove outscored its opponents 19-2 over the course of its first six matches, a level of all-out stubbornness which has Barnhizer’s name all over it.
“Keaton was one of our defenders last year. I moved him into the center midfield,” McLaughlin added. “I made him a captain as a sophomore, which I rarely do, because the kid is such an amazing leader. And I would argue Keaton is probably the heart and soul of our team.”
The last line of the Trojans’ D is goalkeeper Devin McCormick, who has accounted for 39 saves this season — the last being his stop with five seconds left against Cathedral — while allowing only four goals.
It’s this level of stubbornness that makes Center Grove a favorite to eventually bring home a 25th sectional championship, and perhaps much more.
“Our offensive ability is a very key factor, but defensive intensity is definitely our biggest strength,” Barnhizer said. “Over the summer we worked very hard, and focused on defensive principles and defensive effort and intensity.
“I think that really translated into the season once we got going.”