Best of the Decade: Setting standard for seasons to come

   They were known to voters as “hands down, the most exciting team of the decade.”
   It’s the team that made “this community become ‘Hoosiers.’”
   The Post & Mail readers spoke. The 2004 state finalist Columbia City boys’ basketball team is “definitely the best team of the decade.”
   Coming up on a seventh season since the faithful run to the state finals, the feeling remains the same in Columbia City.
   Among players, coaches and fans, the season that became the golden standard at CCHS reflects just as strong as it did in the spring of ’04.
   “It’s still very dear to a lot of people,” Columbia City head coach Chris Benedict said. “People still want to talk about it and ask about it. It got the community backing one school.”
   Disappointment came at the end of the 2003 season when Columbia City went 21-2 and fell in the sectional final. The state finals appearance one season later came to the Eagles as a story of determination.
   “That was the plan for all of us since we first started playing with each other in third grade,” said Marcus Moore, forward on the team and current assistant coach. “Early on, that expectation was there. After our junior year we felt like we still hadn’t accomplished anything.”
   Once over the Warsaw sectional hump, the Eagles cruised to semi-state and played at a future coaching spot for Benedict in Valparaiso.
   As a top 10 ranked team for much of the season, City reached the state finals and squared off against Lawrence North and two players who are now current NBA players in Greg Oden and Ty Conley.
   “They were young and coming to their own,” Moore said of Oden and Conley. “These guys are the epitome of athletes in the state of Indiana.”
   Despite a 50-29 loss in the state finals, the Eagles of 2004 left their mark on the program in a big way.
   Setting 11 school records over the course of the season, players like Marcus Moore, Doug Sheckler, Scott Moore, Ryan Briggs, Trent Shively, Hugh Howard, Kyle Rucks and Matt Kauffman left a lasting standard at CCHS that still remains today.
   “I told those kids as they were going through it that ‘you’ve got no idea what you accomplished,’” Benedict said. “It’s going to take you 10 years to understand what you accomplished.”
   With seven players from that roster going on to play at the college level, many come back to their alma mater and hope to instill the intangibles that made them a success.
   “Expectations for our program are very high,” Moore noted. “Wins and loses are kind of a byproduct of working hard and being a good person in the community.”
   To get a grander scope of how rare a team the 2004 squad was, one can look at the career record books. Two seniors that season, in Doug Sheckler and Marcus Moore, rank among the top 11 in scoring in the basketball program’s history.
   To this day there has been no team that has won more games in a single season with a final record of 25-3 to go along with a third straight NHC championship.
   For the seniors, a record of 65-9 followed them in their varsity careers, not to mention a undefeated record at home for three consecutive seasons.
   The Eagles were all about defense in winning basketball games ranking seventh in the state on points allowed with 40.8.
   No team, including Oden driven Lawrence North, scored 60 points or more on Columbia City in 2004. Only three times did teams break the 50 point mark against the Eagles.
   It’s safe to say, the 2004 Eagles will be remembered not only in this decade but the decades to come.
   “You could tell they wanted to be good,” Benedict said. “Their love for the game and passion for each other was really good. When you have all those intangibles it makes it easier to do the things you want to do.”
   “My best friends are the guys I played with,” Moore said with conviction. “2004 is fresh in my mind as any experience I’ve ever had.”