INDIANAPOLIS – As John Bodey sat in the media interview room flanked by three of his seniors following Saturday’s 62-49 loss to Providence in the Class 2A state championship game, the Central Noble head coach reminisced not just on the last four seasons with the Class of 2022, but also the previous six.
We tend to be quick to gravitate towards programs on the rise when they have reached the point of relevancy, or when they are led by a high-profile player with a high-D1 future. In Bodey’s first two years at Central Noble, the Cougars floated around .500. There were no Bounce columns and certainly not much media love as the program looked to find its way in the Northeast Corner Conference.
But the Cougars did win a sectional championship in Bodey’s first season, the team’s first in 14 years. Surely a sign of things to come.
Bodey spoke on those early times on Saturday.
“We cleaned up a lot of things (early on),” Bodey said. “There were some issues that were there when I got there that aren’t there now. I had to chase some people off. We now have good, quality kids in our program that do things the right way.”
Tearing down to build up is never an easy choice, especially in high school athletics where certain parents believe their kid is the best or other drama-filled delusions. Kids have opinions, parents the same. And fans? They want a winner.
There hadn’t been much winning before Bodey took over. Central Noble was in the midst of a decade-plus drought without a postseason title of any kind. Just twice in the 21st century prior to Bodey arriving had the Cougars finished a year with a winning campaign.
It was that low in Albion.
But things began to change in 2018, when sure-fire Indiana All-Star Connor Essegian was a mere freshman.
With a predominantly youthful roster, Bodey and the Cougars earned 15 wins, falling to NECC regular-season champion Westview in the postseason.
A year later, Central Noble took the next step, winning 22 times and advancing to the sectional final before falling to Churubusco.
Each year was a building block, taking the program to the level above it was the year before. This isn’t Fort Wayne, you can’t just go out, have a few kids be convince they should go to your school and overnight you a contender. No, in Albion, it was growing from within, growing up and taking incremental steps forward.
Essegian was pivotal, but so were guys like Sawyer Yoder, who graduated last season. Yoder was huge in the development of the program under Bodey, particularly last year when the Cougars won the NECC Tournament for the second time in program history and first time since 1970.
When Yoder graduated, some thought the inexorable downward slide would come. But Essegian was back, as were fellow seniors like Ryan Schroeder and Logan Gard.
Goals remained. Central Noble had not won a regional crown since 2001, had never been to a state championship game.
So, the Cougars went to work. They didn’t rest on their laurels, they didn’t sell hype about what they could do but instead put the time and effort into making it reality.
Saturday’s defeat wasn’t necessarily a loss as much as it was a culmination of a program for the first time reaching the pinnacle of Indiana high school basketball – the state championship game. Despite the long faces and disappointment of not bringing the big trophy home, Central Noble can revel in the fact that this year’s group, and players involved in this program over the last few seasons, took the Cougars into uncharted territory.
And that will be the lasting memory for all involved, not Saturday’s result.