Fire burns strong again in City

   Nearly two years ago at this time, Columbia City boys’ basketball was without a head coach as the offseason began.
   The Eagles program stood at a crossroads with back-to-back losing seasons not what fans had grown accustomed to.
   Meanwhile, over in Valparaiso, Drew Benedict, an eighth grader at the time, received a text from longtime friend Derek Hinen.
   “Hey, the job is open again. Just have your dad come back.”
   The wheels were in motion from there and talks began to surface of former head coach Chris Benedict coming back after two seasons at Valparaiso.
   Two seasons into his second stint as head coach at Columbia City, Chris Benedict has his team back in more familiar territory as they take on Culver Academies in Saturday’s class 3A semistate round at    Huntington North High School.
   “It was really hard to see coach Benedict leave but we’re really glad he’s back,” Hinen said. “We’re picking up where he left off.”
   Since his return, coach Benedict has led the Eagles to a 32-13 record.
   Saturday will be his third semistate appearance as Columbia City’s head coach.
   The last came in 2004 when Columbia City made its first state finals appearance in the program’s history.
   Starting guard and son Drew Benedict was a third grader when his father made the deep postseason run.
   Standing on the edge of repeating those steps, Drew Benedict and the Eagles gain an advantage. Both his father and assistant coach Marcus Moore, a starter on the state finals team, know the feeling of semistate and are preparing the next group of Eagles to experience it.
   “They’ve just told us about what their experience was like,” Drew Benedict said. “My dad has told us a lot and it’s great help having Marcus here.”
   Columbia City starts three sophomores and the future looks bright for the Eagles but it’s a message of no guarantees from coach Benedict.
   “Get what you can out of it,” coach Benedict said. “There are a lot of players and coaches in high school basketball that don’t get an opportunity to do what you’re doing right now.”
   The Eagles will need that advice when they take on a taller and athletic Culver squad.
   A quick glance at the roster says enough. Culver has height that will be a big concern for City.
   “It’s going to be very similar to games we’ve played in the past,” coach Benedict said. “You’ve got to defend and rebound.
   “We’ve got to eliminate easy baskets. That’s a big key for us.”
   Culver brings three players at 6-foot-5-inches or taller including starting center Chier Ajou, who stands 7-foot-1-inch.
   Ajou is one of three players to average in double figures with 10.2 points.
   Ahead of him, Juwan Brescacin (6-foot-5-inch) and Jermaine Myers (6-foot-1-inch) are Culver’s main sources of offense. Myers leads all scorers with 20 ppg.
   Columbia City’s game against Culver will follow the 1 p.m. class 2A game at Huntington North.