Boys Soccer: Erik Eksten seizes leadership role for new-look state champ Crown Point
By Michael Osipoff 713-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MichaelOsipoff August 16, 2014 10:58PM
Crown Point's Erik Eksten and Lake Central's Johnny Vargas go for the header in the first half Thursday evening during the Boys Soccer Regional at Merrillville High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 18, 2014 6:47AM
Fully aware of the situation, Erik Eksten didn’t waste any time embracing the responsibility.
Crown Point graduated six starters from its Class 2A state champion, a talented and accomplished class that included all of the Bulldogs’ designated captains, leaving Eksten as the lone returning senior starter. And throughout the offseason, including the summer into this preseason, the central defender has done everything in his power to ensure the program that has won two titles in the last three seasons continues moving forward.
“He has some pretty big shoes to fill as far as leadership is concerned, and he’s really stepped up to the plate,” Crown Point coach Mike Bazin said. “He knows what he has to do. You don’t have to ask him to do anything — he just does it.”
That sort of initiative stems from Eksten’s personality and experience. He enters his third season as a starter, having also been on the postseason roster as a freshman, watching from the bench as the Bulldogs won their first state title. Eksten hopes to impart what he has learned over the years from his older teammates to his younger ones.
“I just know there are a bunch of people looking towards me to help everyone out,” he said. “Coach looked at me to take the reins, and I’ve been excited to do it. I love these guys. I’ve looked up to so many great leaders in my time, I’ve been honored to play with them, and I’m excited to be someone these guys hopefully can look up to.”
Perhaps in a literal sense as well. At 6-foot-4, Eksten is an imposing physical presence in the back. He’s also dangerous as a target on set pieces — he scored five goals last season, including several on headers — and surprisingly skilled in possession for a player his size.
“He’s a very tall, lanky kid, and he can win just about everything in the air, but he has such quick footwork, and he’s very smart on the ball,” Bazin said. “He has everything you want as a defender.”
Eksten’s success at Crown Point has added to his family’s legacy.
His mother, Nancy (Cowan), was a star basketball player, winning a state championship as a senior in 1984, when she was an Indiana All-Star, finished second in Miss Basketball voting and won the Mental Attitude Award. A 2013 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, she graduated as the Bulldogs’ career scoring leader, before playing one season at Kentucky and three at Indiana.
His father, Frank, is a highly regarded strength and conditioning coach, including spending 12 years with the Hoosiers, and working at the Olympics in 2008 (Beijing) and 1996 (Atlanta). He is the director of athletic development at the St. Anthony Sports Medicine Institute.
And his sister, Anna, is a junior, a promising soccer player who missed last season because of injury and is currently focusing on basketball.
“My mom didn’t hold it over my head, but she’s the most competitive person I know, and she definitely handed that down to me,” Erik Eksten said. “And my dad does everything to help keep me healthy. I can’t thank them both enough.”