PHS Athletic Teams Follow the ‘Portage Way’

The 2012-2013 Portage High School athletic season that garnered the school two state championships was a tough act to follow for this year’s student athletes. However, it was evident at Thursday’s Fall Sports Awards Banquet that the 2013 fall teams continued the school’s recent success.

The girls cross country team provided the highlight of the fall season by earning its first regional championship since 1988. Portage also reached the state finals for the 17th time in program history, moving to seventh in the state in all-time appearances. The girls cross country squad has reached the state meet for nine of the last 10 years, including six consecutive seasons.

“We appreciate the chance to go down there every year,” head coach Jay White said. “It’s not something we take for granted. There is something we talked about all year, doing it the Portage way, and we did that all year.”

Seniors Paige Pizer and Keanna Crum were recognized as four-year letter winners. Pizer became just the second runner in the storied history of the program to make four state finals appearances. Rather than selecting an individual as the team’s Most Valuable Player, White gave the award to the whole team for its efforts.

The Portage football team may not have won a conference or sectional title, but the Indians transformed a 2-5 Duneland Athletic Conference record from the 2012 season to a 5-2 DAC mark in the second year under Wally McCormack.

“I would like to say publicly that I think that is one of the best hires we’ve made,” Principal Caren Swickard said of McCormack. “He’s brought pride back to Portage football.”

The Indians took a five-game winning streak into the postseason, but fell 28-7 to undefeated and state-ranked No. 1 Penn in the sectional opener. McCormack indicated that his main goal for next season is taking down the Kingsmen.

“We need to be the team in this area that isn’t intimidated by Penn and beats Penn,” he said.

Senior Cody Maldanado, the only member of the Portage football team to play both offense and defense this season, captured the team’s MVP distinction.

First-year head coach Gina Swenson is hoping to provide some stability to the girls soccer program after becoming its third head coach in the last three years.

“The main goal I had when I took over was rebuilding the program,” Swenson said. “Trying to get this team to play together was a challenge, but more than half way through the season, they started to do that.”

The Indians finished at 4-12, 1-7 in the DAC, but the year ended on a high note. Portage received an unfavorable first round sectional draw when it was matched up with previously undefeated Chesterton. Although the Trojans eventually prevailed 4-0, the game was scoreless at halftime.

“I can’t even describe the feeling that we had at halftime,” Swenson said, while holding back tears. “It was like winning sectionals or regionals. I was so proud of them and still am.”

The girls soccer team posted a 3.705 grade point average, taking the Portage High School Team GPA Award that is handed out each season. Kayla Burns, Brooke Jackson and Patty Mota were each recognized as three-year letter winners.

Junior Alexis McDaniels was named Team MVP after moving to defense midway through the season. Before the switch, the Indians had allowed 32 goals, but afterward they yielded just 15. The season total of 47 goals allowed was a significant improvement from the 74 goals allowed last season.

The boys cross country team used the banquet as a chance to say goodbye to a senior class that has rejuvenated the program’s history of success.

“In 2009, we weren’t any good, and anybody who followed us at that time would tell you that,” head coach Tom Erickson said. “In 2010, this senior class changed expectations. You are a very special group that will be missed.”

Dustin Balboa, David Clegg and Jacob Theilbar were four-year letter winners, while Mauricio Martinez earned three cross country letters. Senior Lucas Sullivan was named the team’s MVP after overcoming a stress fracture that he returned from quicker than anticipated.

First-year boys tennis coach Scott Garrison guided his squad to an 8-8 season. Three-year letterman John Fannin was awarded the team’s MVP.

The Portage boys soccer team provided perhaps the biggest upset of the fall season, downing Valparaiso in the opening round of the sectional. The Indians eventually lost to Chesterton in the sectional championship. The program notched its 400th victory this season.

Ben Schaeffer received first-team All-District honors for Portage boys soccer, while Nate Johnson and Matt Ford joined Schaeffer on the all-conference team. Johnson took home the team’s MVP award.

When volleyball coach Brian Zofkie steps to the microphone for his address at the awards banquet each year, he is usually sitting back down within the blink of an eye. Although his speech lasted just two minutes and four seconds, he made his point about the progress of his program.

“When I got here, volleyball was a two month diversion for some of our kids,” he said. “I think we’ve turned this into a serious program.”

Senior Mariah Wright, who finished her career third in program history in kills and digs, was named the volleyball MVP.

Since 1977, the Portage girls golf team has made 10 trips to regionals. Two of those trips have come since Tim Kunstek took over the program last season. Junior Alicia Wood received MVP honors, while seniors Autumn Stevenson and Gabby Ziulkowski were recognized as they depart the program.

“They are the kind of girls that you would want to have as daughters,” Kunstek said. “They are the essence of Portage pride.”

Kunstek also stressed the importance of all athletes taking advantage of workouts with strength and conditioning coach Dan Clark.

“I saw the softball team in the field house with Coach Clark all the time last year, and it paid off with a state championship,” he said.