Mike Bishop isn’t sure why, but his Center Grove girls soccer teams start to play their best around the time they face Carmel.
The Trojans play the Greyhounds on Wednesday.
Defeating the second-ranked squad in Class 2A on its home turf on what will be senior night for ’Hounds players qualifies as the most daunting challenge of Center Grove’s season.
It’s also the ultimate opportunity to collect momentum with the five-team Franklin Sectional starting Oct. 4 (the Trojans drew a bye and play the Greenwood-Martinsville winner on Oct. 6).
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Bishop, the fourth-year coach whose ninth-ranked team sports a record of 8-3-1, knows his players will battle to the final whistle no matter the circumstances.
“We hold our own. Some games are definitely better than others,” Bishop said. “We held (third-ranked) Avon to one goal, and to take them to a 1-0 decision, that showed good fight in the team.
“With this team, it’s a collectiveness. One game these people look good, another game those people look good. It’s a lot of up and down in different spots, so it’s hard to pinpoint where our strengths are. I don’t know if we’ve found them yet.”
One place to start is senior midfielder Kelli Hippenmeyer, a two-year starter who leads the Trojans with eight goals and is one of four players on Center Grove’s team with four assists.
Next with five goals each are junior forward Athena Passafiume and sophomore midfielder Gracyn Montfort. Sophomore Megan Perry has three goals, as does senior Natalie Kintsler.
Other seniors contributing this season are midfielders Emily Jansen and Lillie Owens, and defenders Holleigh Johnson and Megan Libke.
Also seeing an abundance of field time are juniors Mackenzie Castellanos, Tetyana Clements, Brooke Smalley, Emma Jones, Jessica Helm, Molly Williams, Isabelle Andersen and Braxton Gentry.
Key sophomores for the Trojans include Katie Schier, Kailee Joseph and goalkeeper Ella Thompson.
Overall, 10 different players have contributed to Center Grove’s 34 goals so far this season.
Five of the team’s 10 goals surrendered were in last week’s loss at 2A No. 4 Brebeuf Jesuit.
Undeterred, Bishop, whose squads have captured both sectional and regional titles each of the past three seasons, remains hopeful that this group, too, is on the verge of peaking at the right time.
“We take the old mantra that no one wins state in September,” he said, “so hopefully we’ll be able to work out our kinks and use the regular season to figure out what our identity is. Once everyone is on the same page and working towards that end, we’ll see what we can really do.”
Maybe the best of all yardsticks, Carmel, awaits on Wednesday.
In 2013, Center Grove led, 2-0, only to see the Greyhounds rally for a tie. A year later the Greyhounds defeated the Trojans, 2-1, in the regular season and by a final score of 2-0 three weeks later at the Evansville Harrison Semistate.
Last season at Center Grove, the Trojans lost a 1-0 heartbreaker.
“I don’t know why we do that to each other, honestly,” Bishop said with a laugh. “I have a lot of respect for their program.”
Center Grove’s offensive leaders so far this season: