What happens when you lose the top two scorers in school history and arguably the most prolific duo in Central Noble athletics history?
You move on and don’t look back. At least that is what Cougars coach Josh Treesh is trying to accomplish as he prepares his team for life without Sydney Freeman and Meleah Leatherman.
“We lost two great players,” Treesh said. “But we have four of our top seven varsity players back and our third, fourth and fifth leading scorers returning”
Central Noble is coming off of a two-year stretch in which they won 50 games and a state championship in 2018. The Cougars came close to repeating last year before falling to Oak Hill 53-36 in semistate action.
While different faces have ascended to the forefront, Treesh’s expectations are not diminishing.
“While Sydney and Meleah are gone, their presence still remains,” Treesh said. “You can see it in the leadership of our group this year and how the girls have gotten after each other in scrimmages and shootouts (over the summer).”
A pair of juniors will be looked to for scoring power in Bridgette Gray (Top 50 Girls Hoops #20) and Lydia Andrews (Top 50 Girls Hoops #45). The two combined to average close to 15 points per game and have significant experience in the starting lineup. They also contributed, and sometimes, started on the 2018 state championship team although they were freshmen at the time. Gray (pictured) averaged 9.7 points last season and will be the returning leading scorer.
“Both of them know it is their time to get it done,” Treesh said. “We have a lot of big games coming up and they are going to have to be those players for us.”
Senior Samantha Brumbaugh is also back after averaging 2.7 points per game last season and contributing two years ago on the state championship team.
Central Noble will also rely on a host of underclassmen. Junior Casey Hunter saw some spot minutes last year and also led the JV in scoring. Sophomore Ashleigh Gray will also see a bigger role at the varsity level after appearing in four games last year.
A pair of freshman will also take center stage right out of the gate for the Cougars. Madi Vice is a point guard that could start early on for the Cougars. Meanwhile, 5-foot-7 Megan Kiebel has “played enough basketball to where she doesn’t play like a freshman” according to Treesh.
The schedule is fairly navigable, especially once the team gets into the NECC. While not as high-powered as the past, Central Noble should once again flirt with the 20-win mark and be a contender come playoff time. Their late season schedule will make them road tested with eight of their last nine games being contested on the road.
There is no overestimating the impact that losing Sydney Freeman and Meleah Leatherman has on a program. That said, Central Noble has a lot of up-and-coming talent. Is that talent ready to contribute right away? That remains to be seen, but talent alone should win this team a fair amount of games considering the schedule.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The loss of so much scoring, rebounding and ballhandling with the dynamic duo can’t help but affect the on-court product for the Cougars. That said, perhaps we are undervaluing those who are suiting up for the team simply because they are NOT Freeman and Leatherman.
DEC. 6 VS. ANGOLA
The Hornets have kind of been a barometer game for Central Noble. The Cougars beat Angola twice last year, but they lost to Coach Brandon Appleton’s squad each of the previous two years, including twice in the year they won the state title.
In order to secure a conference title hope, the path likely involves a win over Angola.
PLAYER TO WATCH
BRIDGETTE GRAY, JUNIOR, GUARD
The junior averaged close to 10 points per game despite being all of 5-foot-4 as a sophomore. Someone, or a multiple of someones, need to pick up the scoring slack with so much of it having graduated.
Gray shot 41 percent from three-point range last season. That may be her biggest asset as she looks to make a greater impact this season.