When Central Noble steps on the court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse this Saturday, it will be the biggest stop on what has seemed like a very long trip. But it certainly won’t be the culmination.
That is something that makes the Cougars truly special: there is no celebration to be had for just getting there. They did get to celebrate that trip last Saturday in Elkhart and for the long bus ride home. But now that the tickertape of a semi state title has passed, don’t expect Central Noble to simply “be happy to be there,” when they get to Indianapolis. It is a drive and passion that has made them so good for the past four seasons, one that has had them salivating for a postseason run that they never knew would happen.
“I think they’ve done a great job for four years of taking it one game at a time and knowing every game poses different challenges. They’ve done a good job of being ready and not being satisfied,” Central Noble coach John Bodey said. “They wanted more than a conference tourney championship. They are not satisfied now with a semi state championship. There is one goal to have.”
Satisfaction breeds complacency. Central Noble is not complacent.
When this season’s senior class were freshman, they lost just eight times, one of the best Central Noble seasons in a long time. But when it ended, it was a heavy handed NECC foe in Westview that put them down in Sectional play. A year later, Central Noble was supposed to be THAT team; they won the NECC Tournament title but come postseason play, a conference foe played spoiler in Sectionals – this time it was Churubusco. Rinse and repeat for 2020-2021 as again they won the conference tournament but Churubusco stopped them in the Sectional round.
For a team that lost just seven games the two seasons before this one, they didn’t have quite enough to show for it. There were trophies, but they weren’t THE trophies; nothing shaped like the state of Indiana.
Central Noble has changed that this season by not being satisfied in past successes or possibilities. There was never a look ahead to next season, never a “well, we can go get them down the line.” Central Noble has been rooted in both successes and failures over the past four seasons. They owned up to their mistakes in losses, didn’t get bothered by outside influence and sharpened their many tools. That is something you can credit Churubusco for a bit. The Eagles of 2018-2021 were a formidable rival that pushed the Cougars, drove them into greatness. As we get ready to close out March, Central Noble is the last area team playing and are certainly reaping the rewards of the toughness they have had to display in both victory and defeat in one of the state’s toughest conferences and Sectionals in recent years.
It wouldn’t be fair to not give Connor Essegian boatloads of credit for that.
Essegian has been the ultimate high school player. He attacks for the team and he attacks for himself. If you were to ask the Cougar senior and Mr. Basketball candidate, he will tell you simply he doesn’t care about his own accolades as much as the team’s. And that is what you want to hear, that is a great teammate. But at the same time, Essegian’s drive to not be left out of the conversation individually is critical too. I’ll say it, he was snubbed big time when it came to Indiana Junior All-Star choosing a season ago. So Essegian dusted himself off from team and individual disappointment and has accentuated both of those items in the 2021-2022 season. It is clear that it works, right? Not only is the team headed to the state finals, Essegian is the conversation for Mr. Basketball.
Nobody in this situation is an afterthought anymore.
“Connor is driven for the team and for individual; to me that is what has made it nice is that he is getting recognized across the state. Us playing Barr-Reeve at Southport got him noticed, he’s gotten some positive press down in the Indy area. People across the state area seeing him and they are seeing why he is good and how he is good,” Bodey said.
Central Noble has been built the right way: with grit.
There will always be detractors. The “they shouldn’t be considered better than bigger schools.” The “Essegian doesn’t play a Class 4A schedule.” The “they don’t have players from Albion.” And it is all noise, noise that Central Noble has been able to shut out when they needed to and let fuel them when there may be the need for an extra jolt. Because those detractors, they all get muffled when Central Noble finds the success that has become part of their culture.
When you see the growth in a player like Logan Gard, you know that the Cougars are doing all of the right things. Gard came to Central Noble a sophomore, skinny, a useable post with a nice jump hook and, at the time, what didn’t look like a high ceiling. He will finish his high school career with a future in college basketball, as one of the strongest and toughest post players in Northeast Indiana and a guy with a clutch gene that you can rely on to make big time plays and win you games. Pre-sophomore season Logan Gard was not that guy, but he is now and that is credit to the way the Central Noble program works.
Central Noble has built this run, not just this season, the right way. And the right way is simple: they’ve put in the work, they’ve had the extra dedication and not just the industry standard of showing up. This group and others that came before them or with them, like Sawyer Yoder, all built this thing up simply by not being ok finishing second or finishing with one trophy when the season wrapped up. Each ‘L’ was a stepping stone to get to the Class 2A state finals opposite Providence this weekend.
“Win the conference tourney, finish first or second in the regular season but you can’t get out of that Sectional, which again was the best Sectional in the state in 2A. That monkey was on our back,” Bodey said. “It is pretty special for this group to be able to overcome that finally and make the long run that we really thought we could have made last year.”
There will be one last game for the Central Noble Cougars as we know them presently. But the impact they’ve driven in will last for years to come on their teammates, their brothers and those in Albion we haven’t even thought about yet. That is the ultimate satisfaction.
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