FORT WAYNE – The season really begins tonight for a lot of teams in northeast Indiana.
Some SAC and NECC teams have played conference games, but others open league play tonight. Teams in the NHC and ACAC are also starting the conference slate.
The preseason is to get prepared for the regular season, and the first two games, in a lot of instances, are warm-ups for conference games.
Before Elmhurst and Harding closed, the SAC played only conference games. But now SAC teams have two non-conference contests, but because of scheduling situations, they are not always the first two of the season. Wayne is the only SAC school that plays two nonconference games in Weeks 1 and 2.
That leaves games like Bishop Luers at Snider in the opener as the big conference game right off the bat.
Bluffton coach Casey Kolkman knows a little something about opening up against a conference team with his time at North Side in the SAC. And he prefers how the ACAC schedule sets up.
I like having nonconference games in (weeks) 1 and 2, but I know some coaches dont have that luxury with scheduling, Kolkman said. Luers and Snider is a fun game to open with, but it is tough on those kids.
The preference, obviously, is to get the nonconference opponents over and done with as early as possible. Garrett, for instance, is the lone ACAC team that has all three of its non-ACAC foes in the first three weeks.
But do coaches put any more or less emphasis on the conference games? Probably not, but that doesnt mean the importance doesnt increase.
Most coaches will tell you the games are all the same, but fans notice the energy and passion is on the rise when a rival is also in the same league.
Early on, you want to win because you want to set the tone for the season, Bellmont coach Larry Getts. Theres always the emphasis to win, but especially that first game because the kids have spent so much time in the offseason, and then if go out there in that first game and fall apart, the kids just look at you. If you win, it helps the buy-in because you can tell them this is why we are doing things. You are prepping your kids to go out there and hoping like heck it works out.
Conference games, with the increased meaning, are a true test for teams. Its hard to tell if a 2-0 team is a contender or a pretender until a league win is on the line.
Everybody wants to be 2-0, Getts said. Both the players and coaches take pride in that fact. Last week has no bearing on this week. Games are not predicted ahead of time, you have to go out there, and Friday determines if someone wins or loses.
Injuries are also a concern before the league portion of the schedule, but Getts insists that is true for any game not just conference games.
They are going to creep in there, and thats the nature of the game, Getts said. You hope like crazy they dont happen. The next guy just steps up. You cant hold back in practices or games too much for fear of injuries, they are going to happen anyway.