Things simply could not be better in Albion during the last year. Every time that things looked like they may have peaked at Central Noble, the girls basketball team pushed an extra mile and ended up getting to hang up a state championship banner.

What more could coach Josh Treesh ask for?

How about the return of almost all of his key contributors from a year ago?

Led by the program’s all-time leading scorer Sydney Freeman (1,229 career points), the heart of the Cougar program returns to take another swing at state supremacy. The Cougars started out last season on the fringe of people’s radar due to the success of Freeman and Meleah Leatherman in the past and on the AAU circuit. The duo did not disappoint with Freeman averaging 17.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and five steals per game and Leatherman putting up 14.3 points and 10 rebounds per contest. They led the Cougars by Winchester, 46-42, in the Class 2A state title game.

“Everywhere you go, people are like ‘we can’t wait until basketball season starts’ and I think it has helped every sport here at Central Noble,” Treesh said. “Everybody seems to dedicate themselves a little bit harder to try and do what these girls did.”

Freeman, as noted, became the program’s all-time leading scorer passing 2006 graduate Carey Magnuson. Leatherman will pass Magnuson very quickly herself this season, sitting at 1,203 points — just 17 behind the former record holder. To have two of the program’s three 1,000 point career scorers on their roster at once is a big deal for Central Noble.

“Every year since Syd and Meleah have come in, we’ve talked about how the bullseye keeps getting bigger. I think from last year, we should be able to handle that better,” Treesh said. “We talk about all the time that the only thing we can control is what we control and that is practice and that is all we focus on is to try and get better.”

Behind the senior duo, sophomore Bridgette Gray and Lydia Andrews as well as junior Sam Brumbaugh return after gaining a lot of experience as underclassmen last season. Gray (4.6 ppg) settled into a role as a solid point guard as a freshman and Brumbaugh was a huge part of the Central Noble defense.

The team will have to replace Calista Rice, who was the IHSAA Mental Attitude Award Winner during the state title run. But returning five of the seven players who averaged 10 or more minutes per contest is key.

“The girls are familiar with what we do and I think that is a lot of it, we’ve built a system,” Treesh said. “For us, it is just going out and doing what we do. I think it is our job to establish the other girls around [Freeman and Leatherman].”

Why #2?

They not only are a defending state champion, but arguably the area team with the best chance to return to Bankers Life this spring. As Treesh has said many times and the duo has proven true, it is hard to stop both Freeman and Leatherman in the same game. There is not a single unwinnable game on Central Noble’s regular season schedule.

Why not higher?

The first state coaches poll of the year places the Cougars at third in Class 2A behind Oak Hill and Winchester although Central Noble did receive the most first place votes. That means that plenty of coaches must think they still have something to prove overall. Why not higher on our list? Well you have a lot to prove as a 2A team to be ranked higher than one of the best Class 4A programs in the state.

Critical game

While the Cougars test themselves right out of the gate with a top Summit Athletic Conference team in Bishop Luers on November 3, no date is more circled on NECC calendars than November 30 and a visit to Angola. Last season, the Hornets handed Central Noble two of their five losses and the senior duo of Freeman and Leatherman have lost their last three against Angola; but Treesh doesn’t see that as a worry in most situations.

“They know when it is time to take over games,” Treesh said of Freeman and Leatherman.

This has become the NECC’s big girls basketball rivalry game.

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