Leo coach Cary Cogdell looks back and forward after first sectional title

Cary Cogdell remembers his first postseason as Leo boys basketball coach.

“We won 16 games that year (2004-05) and had to play Bellmont at their place in sectional when they were No. 1 in the state,” Cogdell reminisces.

The Lions battled the top-ranked Braves throughout, but ended up falling 60-54. Cogdell vividly remembers his thoughts following that closer defeat.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is great. We are going to be here every year and it won’t be long until we win a sectional.'”

Reality has been far different.

For the next decade and a half, Cogdell continued to seek that elusive sectional title. He and the Lions came close in 2011 but fell to Harding in the sectional final. In 2015, Leo won 21 regular-season games only to lose to Bishop Dwenger in the sectional opener, blowing a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

“Talk about ripping your heart out.” – Cogdell.

In 2016, Leo and Angola were tied at 38 in sectional play. In a final timeout, Cogdell stressed to his team that no matter what, they could not give up a good look close to the bucket in the final seconds.

“We sat in the zone with every intention of making Angola hit something from outside,” Cogdell said. “Wouldn’t you know it, they got a lay-up to win by two.

“It was just one of those things where you were just like, ‘Gosh, not again.'”

Leo coach Cary Cogdell yells out instructions to his team during a March 4 sectional game against Bishop Luers at Garrett High School.

After being so optimistic in Year 1, Cogdell began to wonder if Leo would ever win a postseason title under his leadership.

“It had really become an obsession for us as a coaching staff, like nothing else mattered,” Cogdell said. “Throughout the years, you question this move in this game or that move in that game.”

But Cogdell persevered. At times he made peace with the fact that maybe he would never win a sectional title, despite over 225 victories over 18 years. Other times, he would obsess and focus on what could be done different for Leo to get a different outcome and finally win its first sectional crown since 2002.

So excuse Coach Cogdell if he was a tad emotional following last Saturday’s 51-47 victory over Concordia Lutheran that clinched the 3A Garrett Sectional title. While he was happy for the current group of Lions hoisting the sectional championship trophy aloft, he also thought of his previous 15 teams at Leo, all of which had visions of postseason glory.

“It choked me up a little bit, I’ll be honest,” Cogdell said. “Saturday really got the monkey off of our back. All of those other guys from our former teams wanted the same thing, and I have heard from a lot of them since we won. It means a ton to me.”

This week has been a whirlwind for Cogdell and his team. Not only is a young group with just a single senior in the rotation prepping for their first regional, but their head coach is as well.

An even bigger story? The location of Saturday’s regional.

Like many kids his age, Cary Cogdell grew up imagining himself as iconic Hoosier Steve Alford. The state hoops’ legend began at the mecca of prep basketball – New Castle Fieldhouse, the very same site of this weekend’s Class 3A regional.

And Cogdell’s first time in the arena? This past Monday.

“This has been my dream,” said Cogdell of playing in the New Castle Fieldhouse. “In the past, I would call down there to see if I could get us scheduled to play there. I wanted to see it. I wanted our kids to see it.

“Now, we get to play there.”

It has been a week of firsts for Cogdell, but his job now is to prepare his team for Delta in Saturday morning’s regional semifinal. All attention is now on getting a pair of victories and advancing to semistate.

But internally, there will be a lot of enjoying the moment, a moment that Cogdell at times thought would never come.

“There is a lot of humbling that goes through the process of eventually winning a sectional,” Cogdell said. “This is way bigger than me. I hope everyone savors it and appreciates it, from the current players to all who have come before.”

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