Penn prepares for championship-level sports weekend
MISHAWAKA, Ind. - It's championship season in high school winter sports, and Penn High School has several teams still in the hunt for championships.
Penn wrestlers will compete at the state finals this weekend, including senior Tanner DeMien who became the fourth Kingsmen to earn a trip the state finals all four years.
"One thing that's been really driving me has been the previous years," said DeMien, who placed seventh at the state finals in his freshman year. He then qualified for finals the last two seasons, but failed to place at either event. "Those two years have been driving me this year. I know what I have to do. I have to push and work a little bit smarter in the room, but I have teammates that are pushing me."
While DeMien has a chance to add his name to Penn's wrestling legacy, he says his individual accomplishments will be made sweeter if the entire team can turn in a solid overall performance.
"Our team is really good and we have a good saying, 'give our max effort,'" he said. "Once we go out there and give our max effort, we know that we're going to get the job done."
While wrestlers take the mat on Friday and Saturday, the Penn girls basketball team will have a shot to punch its ticket to the title game as well.
The Lady Kingsmen will meet Zionsville in the 4A semi-state round on Saturday, meaning they are one win away from representing Northern Indiana in the state championship.
“I've received emails from other coaches in the area saying ‘we’re behind you, go represent the North,’" said head coach Kristi Ulrich. "That means a lot not only to us as coaches but we share that information with the players as well. Everybody up here has their back and they’re wishing us success.”
Success on this stage is something Penn has some experience with, taking the 4A state title in 2016. However, this group is almost totally different.
Penn has a much younger team this season, but is still led by seniors Sara Doi and Tia Chambers who were on that championship squad. While they were waiting their turn, and mostly sat on the bench in 2016, both said they have tried to motivate the younger girls by sharing their memories of playing in Indianapolis.
“Being there before, I know how special it is," said Doi. "[We're] kind of trying to get these younger kids to realize how crazy it is that we’re one of four teams left.”
“We tell them every day it’s something you’ve got to work hard for," said Chambers. "If you get there, it’s an amazing experience.”
As a coach, Ulrich said it has been an advantage for this team to have seniors like that to ease the nerves as the lights get brighter each round.
"They've been there before," she said. "Them being able to share their experience with the younger kids kind of puts them at ease. You can look at is as yes, it is a big stage. But at the end of the day it's just another basketball game. Just reassuring them that all the work they've put in to this point is going to help them be prepared."
The semi-state game between Penn and Zionsville takes place at Valparaiso High School on Saturday. Tip is scheduled for 5 p.m. eastern time.