Crusaders win regional title after head coach, assistant get engaged

Columbus Christian coach Chris Noblitt cuts a piece of the net as his fiancee and assistant coach Leslie Engel, at bottom of latter, and the Crusader team looks on following their ICSAA South Regional championship on Saturday at Columbus Christian.

Hours before Columbus Christian took the court for its Indiana Christian Schools Athletic Association South Regional final on Saturday, Chris Noblitt had already picked up a victory.

The Crusaders head girls basketball coach, proposed to his girlfriend, assistant coach Leslie Engel, prior to the team’s shootaround on Saturday morning. She said yes.

Saturday afternoon, Noblitt and Engel guided Columbus Christian to their first regional title since 2019 with a 44-33 victory against Christian Academy of Madison.

“(The gameday proposal) wasn’t always the plan,” Noblitt said. “The plans got shifted a little bit, but it seemed like that was the perfect time for it. She’s from Ohio, and her whole family got to come over for the game today, so her whole family is here.”

The Crusaders (14-12) advance to next weekend’s ICSAA State Finals at Heritage Christian (Dyer). They will play in the semifinals at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. CST) Friday. The championship game is Saturday afternoon.

Columbus Christian coach Chris Noblitt hoists the ICSAA South Regional championship trophy following Saturday’s win against Christian Academy of Madison at Columbus Christian.

Columbus Christian got off to a slow start in the regional final, falling behind 6-0 early. Point guard Paige Harden picked up her second foul less than two minutes into the game, and with her on the bench, the Crusaders committed 12 turnovers in the first quarter.

“Paige handles the ball really well for us,” Noblitt said. “Paige definitely controls the game when she’s out there, so we have to keep her out of foul trouble.”

Christian Academy of Madison led 13-7 late in the first quarter when Columbus Christian went on a 14-2 run to take control. The Crusaders led 22-16 at halftime and built the lead to as many as 15 in the fourth quarter.

“They wanted it more than us in the beginning,” Columbus Christian sophomore Emma Murray said. “We kind of came in and were like, ‘OK, we’re going to win this easy,’ and I think that kind of affected how we played.”

Murray led the Crusaders with 14 points and 15 rebounds, and sophomore Olivia Wise added seven points. The pair of 5-foot-10 sophomores had a distinct height advantage over their opponents.

“Some of the plays that we did allowed us to get more under the basket, which I think helped,” Wise said.

“To rebound, you don’t necessarily have to be 6-foot tall,” Murray added. “It’s all about the work you put in and how bad you want it.”

Columbus Christian poses with the ICSAA South Regional championship trophy. Pictured are, front row from left, assistant coach Leslie Engel, manager Dakota Carr, Kaeli Clawson, Eva Blair, Paige Harden, Emma Rice; second row, Olivia Wise, Emma Murray, Belle Blair, Mara Nickerson, Katie Bond; and back row, head coach Chris Noblitt and assistant coach John Blair.

Columbus Christian outrebounded the Defenders 42-32. Harden added six points and six rebounds, and Katie Bond scored six points for the Crusaders.

“We knew they were going to be scrappy and physical, and they kind of punched us in the mouth early,” Noblitt said. “I think that second quarter, we really got after it defensively and got some buckets. The second half, they were going to come out at us, and we just kept on it. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Columbus Christian 44, Christian Academy of Madison 33

Christian Academy;13;3;7;10;—;33

Columbus Christian;9;13;10;12;—;44

Christian Academy: Jada Yoder 3 3-8 9, Hannah Skirvin 7 1-4 16, Megan Hoskins 0 0-0 0, Abby Whitice 0 0-0 0, Eva Fox 0 2-2 2, Elise Coulter 0 0-2 0, Lindsey Gross 2 2-2 6. Totals: 12 8-18 33.

Columbus Christian (14-12): Kaeli Clawson 0 0-0 0, Eva Blair 2 0-0 5, Paige Harden 2 1-2 6, Katie Bond 3 0-0 6, Olivia Wise 3 1-2 7, Emma Rice 1 0-0 3, Mara Nickerson 0 0-0 0, Belle Blair 1 1-2 3, Emma Murray 5 4-4 14. Totals: 17 7-10 44.

3-point goals: Christian Academy 1 (Skirvin); Columbus Christian 3 (E. Blair, Harden, Rice).