Bears Fight Back to Earn Winning Record

David Nagy

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Bears Captains 2023

The 2023 season did not get off to the best start for the South Bend Bears, as they fell to Crown Point in the season opener, and then played victim in a 14-0 shutout at the hands of the Saint Joe Indians. Since then, the bears have gone 4-0, with confident wins over Laporte, Bowling Green, Marian and Chesterton. Although the Bears still have the majority of their schedule to play, including challenging matchups against the likes of Penn, Northridge and Munster, this turnaround has been important in establishing a foundation to build off of in the hunt for their second Club State Championship. 

Crown Point, a perennially competitive program, had a strong game defensively and went home the victors of the first game in the state of Indiana by a scoreline of 8-5. Not coming away with their desired result, the loss carried some positives for the home side. Freshman attackman Ben Nevala had an impressive debut for the club, scoring twice on two shots to open his high school career. Senior long stick midfielder (LSM) Teddy Skendzel also went two for two to make him the bears joint top scorer on the day. Skendzel earned 1st Team All-Conference honors last season, and has been a standout player for the club. On the defensive end, the Bears did not let up a goal in three man down possessions from the Bulldogs, and Junior goalkeeper, Saul “The Wall” Zabukovic maintained an impressive 68.00% save percentage. 

The following week, the reigning 1A State Champion Saint Joseph Indians entirely outclassed the Bears at School Field. The 14-0 scoreline made for the biggest loss* and first competitive shutout in program history**. The Bears spent nearly the entire game on defense, managing only six shots. One of the few bright spots for the home side, Zabukovic was able to hamper the onslaught, recording a respectable 51.72% save percentage.

A road game at LaPorte High School served as the first chance at redemption for the South Bend outfit. The bears looked the better team throughout, securing their first win 18-5 led by Senior face-off man Ethan Brieler with six goals and three assists, and Senior attackman Sam Troxel who had five and one. At the other end, the defensive unit was successful at deterring three of four man down opportunities from the Slicers, while defensive players Brody Damrill and Jakin Stewart were able to score a goal and two goals respectively. 

A trip to Ohio in tornado conditions provided the bears with their second win. The hosts Bowling Green took advantage of their man up opportunities and capitalized in transition to make the matchup competitive, but in the end the Bears walked away victors 13-8. Brieler again led the side in points with five goals and four assists, again followed by Troxel with four and two, while alongside them sophomore attackman Bly Johnson had a breakout performance, adding three goals to the scoreline. 

Returning to South Bend, though playing at a new venue, the Bears squared up against a very familiar Marian team at the Kroc Center. The defensive squad rose to the occasion, giving up only one goal out of six man down opportunities, with Zabukovic living up to his nickname and keeping 64.29% of the Knight’s shots from crossing the goal line. Johnson held his form with another three goal game, though Brieler again was the top scorer with six. Troxel, always looking for the open pass, served as an architect for the offense and provided four assists. The Bears ended on top with a scoreline of 12-5.

In their most recent outing, the Bears visited the Chesterton Trojans for a comprehensive 14-5 team win. Troxel was lethal from range, scoring six and assisting one, which was enough for him to be passed the Sledgehammer, the Bear’s black and yellow striped sledgehammer which serves as their player of the game trophy. A quick and aggressive Trojans squad gave the defense trouble at times, but another high class game from Zabukovic and offensive dominance at the other end were more than enough to keep the Bears clear. 

Next up, the club will be making the trek to Leo High School on Saturday, April 15th. The last time the two teams met the Bears came away with a 9-4 win. They’ll be hoping to repeat this success and extend their win streak to five before returning home to play Penn in midweek. 

*According to the records kept by the Indiana High School Lacrosse Association. 

**Excluding games forfeit for any reason.