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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Doug McSchooler | For The Journal Gazette Central Noble junior forward Meleah Leatherman cries tears of joy after the Cougars won the Class 2A state championship game Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. She had 11 points and 12 rebounds in the game.

  • Guard Calista Rice, the only senior on the Central Noble squad, was named the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude winner for the Class 2A game. She scored five points and had three rebounds and two steals.

  • Central Noble High School freshman guard Bridgette Gray (25) puts up a shot as she’s defended by Winchester Community High School junior center Kira Robinson (14) during the first half of the 43rd Annual IHSAA Girls Basketball State Finals class 2A championship game, Saturday, February 24, 2018, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

  • Dennis Leatherman, father of Cougars forward Meleah Leatherman, fires up the crowd with a cheer during the second half Saturday.

  • Central Noble coach Josh Treesh lets one of the referees know he’s unhappy during the first half Saturday. Treesh’s team is the first from the school to win a state championship in any sport.

  • Central Noble freshman guard Bridgette Gray puts up a shot around Winchester’s defense. Gray scored five points. She also had three rebounds and a block.

Monday, February 26, 2018 1:00 am

Cougars go from bad to best

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

In the last four years, the Central Noble girls basketball team has gone from a 5-18 record to a Class 2A state championship.

In Calista Rice's four years, the Cougars amassed a 73-33 record that concluded with a 46-42 win over Winchester at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday. As the only senior on this year's squad, Rice is graduating as the winningest player in program history.

“In our program, she's the winningest athlete in school history which I think is awesome,” Cougars coach Josh Treesh said. “She gets to graduate with that. She works hard. I really do believe that if you're going to do these things, if you're going to win conference championships, sectionals, regionals, semistates, state, it has to come from your upperclassmen.”

Rice, this year's Class 2A Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award winner, was the only senior on the court in Saturday's state championship game as Winchester's only senior, Victoria Pegg, didn't play.

Rice's leadership as the only senior was huge. The 5-foot-5 guard averaged 4.3 points heading into the state championship and scored five points at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. She also added three rebounds and two steals and effectively guarded Winchester's 6-foot guard Maddie Lawrence for a few possessions.

“She has had some unbelievable defensive possessions in this postseason,” Treesh said. “I think she guarded Lawrence some possessions and did an awesome job and she did an awesome job at semistate with Frankton's good guard (Sydney) Tucker.

“I think there was segment during the year where we had to go with these two, the most important people are your guards ... but that's where it starts. Your defense, your intensity, your pressure has to come from these two (Calista and Sydney Freeman) and once the intensity in practice picked up, we went to a whole other level defensively.”

There was a bit of an adjustment period at the beginning of the season for Rice, who was coming off her soccer season.

“Going from soccer to basketball is kind of rough as far as being in shape,” she said. “Soccer is up and down longer distances and basketball is sprint, sprint, sprint. Being No. 1 on the soccer team and then coming into basketball and having Syd and Meleah (Leatherman) and I'm kind of backup. It's very different.”

For Rice to serve as that kind of example for the younger girls on the basketball team was important for the Cougars' success this season.

“This is what this team is all about,” Treesh said. “I don't think they really care who scores. They accept their role to the best of their ability and that's a positive thing that Calista gives our team is seeing that they don't need to be that focal point.”

Only four teams in the entire state get to send their seniors out on a win and it was important for the Cougars to do that for Rice.

“It's just awesome to be able to send her off with a state championship,” Freeman said, “because she's done so much for the team defensively and offensively.”

areichel@jg.net