2001-2002 Sports Success (by Zach Carter)

2001: DHS Sports Odyssey 

The 2001-02 Sports Season Was Arguably School’s Best Ever

By Zach Carter

The year 2001 had some great moments in sports. Tiger Woods won his second Masters, Barry Bonds set the record for most home runs in a season, and the Los Angeles Lakers claimed their 13th NBA championship. But there was something else. The 2001-2002 school year was seemingly the most successful school year ever for Delta High School athletics. 

At least 13 athletes that school year would go on to play NCAA Division 1 athletics. Two teams won state championships, two other teams made the state finals, four individuals were state runners-up, and one individual won the second of her three straight state championships.
Volley 2001 State
Volleyball team members are all smiles after returning from speaking with elementary students about their 2001 state title.

It started in the fall of 2001 with the success of the volleyball team. The Eagles won 35 matches and lost only 4. The team cruised through sectionals and regionals. They would carry on this streak all the way to the end, becoming Class 3A state champions for the first time in school history. 

Under head coach Robb Painter, the team dominated Fort Wayne Luers 15-5, 15-5 in the finals. They would go on to win the state title again the next season, too.

Juniors Ashley DeNeal and Blair Buchanan were first team All-State players and senior Megan McGrane was a second team All-State player.  All played NCAA Division 1 volleyball.
Volley huddle
The players huddle after winning another point.

Haley (Bullock) Cross, now Food Services Director at Delaware Community Schools, was a sophomore volleyball player that season. “The seniors and juniors were both a really strong athletic group so I was lucky to be on the court with them,” she says. “‘Even though they could be very intimidating, when we were in the gym and on the court, we were family.”

She adds: “Going to state was exciting and overwhelming, and then winning state was even better.  We were all nervous, but our coaches focused us on one game at a time.  We had great scouting reports and were ready for our opponents.”
Volleyball team 2001
The 2001 Class 3A volleyball state champion Delta Eagles.

One example of the team’s dominance came in the sectional championship match when the Eagles shut out Alexandria, 15-0, 15-0. In the opening round of the regional, the team beat Zionsville 15-1, 15-1.  Altogether, the Eagles did not lose a single game in their final 22 matches of the season.

The next highlight that fall came from the boys’ tennis team. Ranked sixth in the state, they won 21 matches in a row before finally losing for the first time in the opening round of semi-state, 3-2. The No. 1 doubles team of seniors Kelly Robbins and Daniel Jackson finished as State Doubles Runner-up.

“We knew each other's strengths and could pull from that during tough matches,” Robbins said. “Tim (Cleland, head coach) saw something in us to put us together and we were grateful that he did.”
Kelly Robbins and Daniel Jackson
Boys' tennis 2001 doubles state runners-up Kelly Robbins (left) and Daniel Jackson with coach Tim Cleland.

Robbins and Jackson lost 6-4, 6-4 to Carmel in the state championship match. Jackson ended his career as a three-time All-State Doubles player and went on to play NCAA Division 1 at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. “Daniel was our strongest player and kept us in the final match as best he could,” Robbins said.

The fall sports season was not over yet. The football team came out on fire, winning eight games out of nine in the regular season. They blew out their opponents from sectionals to semistate. The closest scoring games during that stretch were against Fort Wayne South and Plymouth. The Eagles would beat both of them by more than two touchdowns. They finished as Class 4A State Runner-Up after losing to Jasper in the championship game in the RCA Dome.

Head coach Grant Zgunda said leadership was a big factor. 

“This team was special in that it seemed to be closer than some of the others and I attribute that to the great senior leadership we had,” he said. “They didn't want to let each other down.
Coach on field
Football coach Grant Zgunda talks with his players on the field at the RCA Dome after the 2001 state championship game.

His favorite memory from that season was when the Eagles beat Plymouth 27-7 in the semi-state game at home. 

Quarterback Joey Lynch, now an assistant coach at Colorado State University, went on to be named East Central Indiana Player of the Year and was fifth in Indiana Mr. Football voting. He then played quarterback at Ball State University.

“I think our confidence and belief made our team special,” Lynch said. “In 2000, we went 13-1 and came up just short of reaching the state championship. So when the 2001 season started, I remember feeling like we had some unfinished business.”
Football snap
Friends Joey Lynch (15) and Brad Wilson (73) switch roles for fun as quarterback Lynch pretends to snap to lineman Wilson.

Seniors Brad Wilson, Chris Jackson, Chris Jerles, Jake Miller and Steve Otterbein were among some of the other standout seniors.

Assistant coach Steve Wuthrich remembers what it was like before the start of the championship game. He says, “I am a nervous person, so I was very jittery. You know there is so much on the line. It seemed like the game would never start.”

Jasper won 35-20 as running back Brian Lewis gained 211 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns.  Lynch threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns for the Eagles.

“I was a little disappointed that our defense could not get a few more stops,” Wuthrich said. “We scored enough points to win. Obviously the team that beat us was very good, so I was just proud of our players.
Coach at halftime
Coach Grant Zgunda address his team at halftime of the state championship game.

During the football season, the 9/11 terrorist attack, one of America’s most tragic days, took place. It happened on a Tuesday, and that week’s game against Yorktown was postponed from Friday night to Saturday.

“9/11 affected all of us individually and as a community,” Lynch said. “‘It brought us all together and reminded us how lucky we all were to be a part of a team and play high school football.” 

Indiana is known for its basketball, and the 2001-2002 DHS boys’ basketball team did what every team dreams of: winning state. 

Head coach Paul Keller had been to state before with the Eagles in 1997, losing to Bloomington North in the championship game of the final single-class tournament. But this time was different as the Eagles won the Class 3A state title.

“I felt confident that we were prepared both mentally and physically,” Keller said. “I felt certain that this team could find a way to win no matter what the adversity we might face in this game.” 

Keller added, “Their focus was better than any other team I have ever coached from the middle of January and throughout the tournament.”
Basketball players with trophy
Seniors (from left) Brian Wright, Joey Lynch, Kelly Robbins, Brad Wilson and Ryan Rhoades with the 2002 boys' basketball state championship trophy.

In the championship game, Kelly Robbins set a scoring record for the 3A state game with 38 points in the victory over Fort Wayne Harding.

“Coach Keller gave us a winning game plan and we executed it probably better than he would have imagined,” Robbins said. “Although I had the highlights for the night, it was a team effort.”

Coach Keller has his own opinion on what Robbins accomplished. 

“Kelly did something that looking back is very remarkable,” Keller said. “He played the best game of his career in the most important game of his career.  Not many players are capable of doing that, especially on such a big stage.”
Joey Lynch scores
Joey Lynch scores a basket.

Another player that was a big factor for the Eagles was senior Joey Lynch. 

“I think our chemistry and how we played together,” Lynch said. “We had five seniors who had all been playing together since the sixth grade and were truly great friends. We all knew our role and played good team basketball.”
State basketball champs
The Class 3A state championship boys' basketball team in 2001-2002.

In addition to Robbins and Lynch, other seniors were Ryan Rhoades, Brad Wilson and Brian Wright, who won the Trester Award for mental attitude after the state championship.

As for their favorite moment from the season, the players and coach agreed that the semi-state victory over Jasper took the cake. Since Jasper beat Delta in state for football, this was a revenge story.

The game took three overtimes and ended on a buzzer-beater basket from Rhoades for a 65-63 victory.
Ryan Rhoades with trophy
Ryan Rhoades, the hero of the triple-overtime victory over Jasper in the semi-state.

Robbins recalls that the fans stormed the floor, which was something that none of them had experienced before.

Coach Keller says, “Winning on Ryan Rhoades’ last-second shot was like something you would see in a movie.”

The Eagles’ success continued into the spring of the 2001-2002 school year. It kicked off with the girls’ tennis team. The team finished the season at 19-2, losing 3-2 to Zionsville in semi-state. Seniors Adrienne Campbell and Beth Miller, the top two singles players, each went on to play NCAA Division 1 college tennis.

Seniors Sarah Peckinpaugh and Kat Yadon finished as State Doubles Runners-Up, losing in three sets in the championship match to undefeated Indianapolis North Central. 
Tennis doubles partners
Girls' tennis partners Sarah Peckinpaugh (left) and Kat Yadon, the 2002 state runners-up in doubles.

Sarah was very consistent with few weaknesses, played smart and was a great teammate,” Coach Cleland said. “Kat was an explosive athlete with a live arm.  She was dangerous at the net!”

He also mentioned that Sarah and her previous partner, Ashli Smith, were state doubles runners-up the year before, also.

  The spring sports season had no plans of stopping yet. The baseball team would go on to be Class 3A state finalists, also. 

The team finished the regular season with a 13-11 record before winning five straight postseason games and going all the way to the state semifinals. Coach Joel VanPelt reflects on the team from that season. 

“I have often heard coaches say that sometimes your ‘best’ team isn't the one that makes a deep tournament run,” he says.  “This team probably ranks fourth in the best teams that I had the privilege to coach.  But I do feel like the success of the football team and the basketball team played a role in this baseball team.  Many of my players were also on the football team, basketball team, or both.  The team was led by Kelly Robbins, Brad Wilson and Joey Lynch.  And all three just knew how to win and were great leaders.”

During the middle of the season, the team was in a slump. 

“We were a good defensive team for sure, really just an average hitting team, but pitching is so important in high school baseball,” VanPelt said. “Our  No. 1 pitcher, Kelly Robbins, did not pitch until the end of the season.  He had an arm injury during basketball season that affected his throwing for baseball.  When Kelly came back to pitch, we then had a nice 1-2 punch on the mound and we began to roll at tournament time.”

Robbins added: “During the year, we had a lot of injuries that we were dealing with. I couldn’t pitch … and we had other pitchers with injuries and our lineup was rotating a lot because of them.”

VanPelt and Robbins agree that the 3-2 victory in the semifinals against Pendleton Heights was one of their favorite highlights from the season.

VanPelt said, “Pendleton Heights was the favorite to win our sectional. They were clearly the best team.  They had two really good pitchers, one of them was especially good. Well, Pendleton chose to pitch their  No. 2 pitcher against us. That really motivated us.”

VanPelt added: “Late in the game, I have Kelly Robbins on third base.  The pitcher had a slow delivery to the plate.  Kelly and I looked at each other and had the same idea in mind, let's try to steal home!  Next pitch, Kelly successfully steals home which is the go-ahead run and we defeat them 3-2.”
Baseball pitcher
Pitcher Nick Pipito, whose double was the winning hit in the regional finals.

Another memory that Coach VanPelt brought up was the 6-5 victory over Crawfordsville in the regional finals. 

He said: “In the regional final, we were getting beat and it wasn't looking good for us.  Brad Wilson hit a weak ground ball to second base which should have been the last out of the game.  The second baseman took his time fielding it and Brad was hustling down the line.  In a very controversial call, the umpire called Brad safe!  All of the Crawfordsville players had thrown their gloves in the air to celebrate, but then the safe call.  There was at least a 5-minute delay in the game due to arguments by the opposing coach. Their crowd was going crazy.  When play resumed, their pitcher walked the next two batters, and then Nick Pipito lined a double down the left field line, and we are now up one run!  We hold them in the bottom of the inning, and the next thing I know, my players are throwing their gloves in the air as REGIONAL CHAMPIONS!”

The dream postseason ended in the semifinal round of the state finals when the Eagles lost to Bellmont 15-2. 

The last sports to “run” to victory were the boys’ and girls’ track teams.  Both teams finished unbeaten for the season. (Girls’ cross country and girls’ soccer also had unbeaten regular seasons that school year.)

But it was a girls’ track runner who turned out to be one of the most successful athletes in any sport in school history.

Christina (Poulson) Kuzma was the only track runner to advance to state, where she would place first in the 100-meter dash. She had done it the year before and would do it again the following season to become a three-time state champion in the 100-meter dash. Christina is the only athlete in school history to win a state title in track and field. 
Christina Poulson
Christina Poulson, the state champion in the 100-meter dash in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Christina, a junior during the 2001-2002 season, recalled that she only started track as a freshman when she joined the team because she wanted to hang out with friends after school. 

As a freshman, she placed third in state in the 100-meter dash.

“Once Coach (Tom) Devine and I found out I had some talent after our third-place finish at state in 2000, we started hitting the weight room hard,” she said.

She remembers the feeling after winning state: “It’s definitely a rush and kind of surreal. We prepare all year for an 11-second race. It happens so quickly, it’s easy to make mistakes.” 

She did not make many mistakes. To earn her titles she ran 11.93 seconds in 2001, 11.90 in 2002, and 11.75 in 2003.  She went on to run track at Ball State University.

Her high school track career hit a significant roadblock during the 2001-2002 season.

“I was a cheerleader at that time as well,” she said. “During a practice, I had fallen off a stunt and broken my leg. I had a hard cast for quite some time and at the start of the track season, I got it off and had this skinny leg. I remember lifting weights with that cast on my leg and propping my crutches up and still doing exercises with my uninjured leg.”

Despite the obstacle, she still won the state title again.

Christina attributes much of her success to her coach, Tom Devine, who passed away from cancer in 2012.

“I don’t think you have enough room on your page for everything wonderful about Coach D,” she said. ‘“He was with me every single step of the way. We had so much fun every single day! He believed in me, and I believed in him. I still carry so many things that he taught me to this day in my professional life and as a mother and wife.”

She remembers training together with her coach using cross country skis in the snow.

The 2001-2002 DHS sports season remains the standard bearer. Baseball coach Joel VanPelt brought up an interesting point. He said that success from other sports earlier in the year helped his team succeed.

There have been other good teams for many DHS sports in the last few seasons, but there has not been anything like that 2001-2002 season.