It never hurts to have back the experience that Central Noble is going to have going into the 2020-21 season.
Many teams would yearn for the ability to bring back four starters from a 20-win team. The Cougars have that in the return of senior Sawyer Yoder and juniors Logan Gard, Connor Essegian and Ryan Schroeder, and it has them right at the top of the heap in a still-loaded NECC.
“I feel good about all of the experience those guys gained last year in a lot of big, intense games, tough road games. I thought all four of those kids grew last year from that,” Cougars coach John Bodey said. “I do like our experience.”
Bodey says he warns his team though about buying into the hype early and listening to what other people tell them. He thinks the maturity they gained to understand that could prepare them to defend their NECC Tournament title and for the conference regular season, where they finished third last year.
Keeping them focused will largely be in the hands of Yoder as a senior leader and fresh off another season quarterbacking the Cougar football team. Yoder’s presence, maturity and focus could be a hallmark for what Central Noble continues to build on. In 2019-20, he averaged 15.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and a team-high 3.3 assists per game. But what really helped was that he seemed to get better each game.
His freshman season, Essegian was used primarily in catch and shoot situations because he was, and continues to be, dead-eye accurate. But he hit the weight room, got better on the drive as a sophomore and now, as a junior, is basically a complete player. With that, Division I interest has started to role in for Essegian, but he continues to improve himself and not stay comfortable with the player he is. This season, it is expected that he will show an improved defensive acumen.
“He is a competitive kid, he has goals for his team but he also has goals for himself beyond high school and he is working hard to achieve those goals,” Bodey said.
Gard has improved as a consistent player, something that Bodey wanted to see more out of him after his transfer before last season from Garrett. Gard averaged 6.1 points and 4.3 points per game, adjusting to a role as the lead post against a conference that was big and physical. Gard is now more physical himself to try to impose his will.
Schroeder averaged 6.4 points and three assists per game, but really saw value in being someone who crashed the boards, putting up a team second-best 5.2 rebounds per game. He will continue to be one of the lead guards who can be trusted with the ball in his hands but a lot of his value is how he moves around off ball offensively.
“Probably one of the highest IQ players on our team,” Bodey said of Schroeder.
How deep could this Central Noble team be compared to past seasons? The sky could really be the limit as it replaces three seniors who played different roles, including Myles Smith who was able to control himself and his team in the half court.
Junior Noah Shepherd, sophomore Conner Lemmon and freshman Jackson Andrews could all see time in lead or secondary guard roles where Smith was a season ago. They all bring different tools to the table, according to Bodey. Aidan Dreibelbis is up from a solid JV season in 2019-20; the junior cuts well without the ball and shoots at a strong rate.
Seniors Josh Ellet and Noah Christopher will also add depth as they come up from the JV level.
The Central Noble freshman class is considered one of the best ninth grade groups in the area. While they won’t all be able to contribute on a varsity level this season, bringing in a respected Class of 2024 shows signs of the Cougars really being able to sustain the success of their program when their current crop of juniors and seniors are gone.
“The thing I like most about those kids is they like being in the gym,” Bodey said. “There are going to be a lot of kids in that class that just continue to get better.”
Diversity is key to what Central Noble is. This is a team with several players that don’t have a typical core strength. Instead, the Cougars are conditioned to just be pretty good at everything. And when the devil is in the details, that diversity produces a winning formula.
A year ago, the Cougars won 22 games and don’t forget this is a team where 75 percent of their core group were just sophomore in pushing them over the 20-win mark.
They have room to grow, yes, but so far their growth has been remarkable.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The Cougars did win 22 games last year, but along the way lost some that they just probably shouldn’t have. They were out-matured by Westview, upset by Wawasee and East Noble and then beaten twice by rival Churubusco. There is a field of thought that Central Noble should have, or could have, won all five of those games.
The Cougars will need to show poise and enhanced maturity to move on up this power poll with the teams ahead of them having both of those things nailed down.
December 12 at Westview
A January game with Churubusco isn’t the wrong answer either. But for the Cougars, they need to come out of the gate with an impact win and third game out sees a trip to Westview. The Cougars lost to the Warriors last season and it made them have to play from behind immediately in the NECC.
This season, there is no Charlie Yoder to defend and it certainly won’t be the typical Westview environment that they have to walk into. But that doesn’t change the fact that Westview at Westview is a benchmark experience for any team any year.
If Central Noble can push through this game and possibly be 2-0 in conference before Christmas, it will do a lot for its mentality into 2021. Because winning at Westview will never be considered easy.
“Westview lost Charlie, but they’ve got some good players. They’ve got players capable of winning the conference. Coach Bentley has that type of experience,” Bodey said.
Logan Gard, junior
When you have a pair of wings like Yoder and Essegian who can shoot well but also rebound aggressively, it takes some weight off your shoulders. But at the end of the day, Gard is the last line of defense against a schedule, in and out of conference, with some pretty strong interior play.
A confident Logan Gard will go a long way in Central Noble’s title hopes. He is long, attentive at the rim and has a variety of post moves at his disposal. Central Noble will look for Gard to use all of the tricks in his bag and use them consistently and confidently in 2020-21.
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