The 2003-04 basketball season can be adequately labelled "The Big Turnaround". After all, the Covington Buccaneers improved on a 5-18 record in 2002-03 to a 14-9 record. They also improved dramatically in the Cross County Conference, reversing a 3-8 record to a 10-1 record and runner-up in the conference.
The only defeat the Buccs faced in the Cross County Conference was at the hands of an 18-2 team in Ansonia. This came on the last night of the regular season with both teams coming in unbeaten in the conference. With only four points separating the two teams heading into the final period, the Tigers scored 25 points in the final 8:00 for a 60-44 win.
Despite falling short in their quest to capture a conference championship, the Buccs had some memorable highlights throughout the year.
In the second game of the season, the Buccs went into Shelby County and knocked off a highly regarded Fairlawn team. Matt McCord had a monster night with 34 points and a season-high 22 rebounds as the Buccs recorded a 75-63 win.
The following week McCord did it again. This time Arcanum was on the receiving end of a McCord onslaught. The senior poured in a season-high 37 points along with 20 rebounds in the Buccs' 70-54 win.
Covington remained unbeaten until December 23 when New Bremen handed them a 61-48 defeat. The Buccs then lost their next two games as free poor throw shooting became a problem.
The Buccs kicked off 2004 and the new year with three straight wins over Franklin Monroe, West Milton and Newton. Looking to build on the momentum, the Buccs ran into a very physical Tipp City team. Despite leading throughout most of the contest, the Buccs couldn't prevent Tipp's Adam Smith from canning a 10-foot jumper with 7 seconds left to steal the win.
In perhaps their most impressive win of the season, the Buccs traveled to National Trail and upset the favored Blazers by the score of 63-59. In a solid team effort, the Buccs recorded three players in double figures and held Trail's big man, Tim Beck to 4 second half points.
The celebration was short lived as the Buccs faced unbeaten Versailles the following night. With tired legs and the challenge of trying to contain the Tigers' talented shooters, the Buccs suffered their worst defeat of the season, 68-40. Versailles went on to finish the season unbeaten and the top ranked team in the state.
Determined and resilient, the Buccs rebounded in a hurry. They won 4 out of their next 5 and headed into the final two games of the season with confidence and momentum.
Unfortunately, the Buccs couldn't close out the season the way they had hoped as Miami East spoiled the annual hall of fame night by handing the Buccs a 54-44 loss and then Ansonia took the conference championship ten days later.
Resiliency again became the Buccs' strong suit as the tournaments tipped off. Covington scrapped their way to a 56-53 win over Botkins in the opening round of the sectional tournament.
Troy Christian became the Buccs' net victim as sophomores Darin Rhoades dropped in 19 points and Dustin Kimmel dominated inside the paint despite being under the weather. This set up a rematch of last year's sectional finals between Covington and Russia.
Looking for revenge, the Buccs jumped out to an early lead before Russia went on a 29-7 run. Despite a late run of their own, the Buccs could never cut the Russia lead to within double digits and eventually fell by the score of 63-43.
The Buccs look to the future with optimism despite losing 5 seniors. Matt McCord, Brady Reck, Dallas Burelison, Dusty Rhoades and TJ Warner were the backbone of the team and sparked "The Big Turnaround".
Boys All-Conference Selections
Adam Barga, Ansonia; Jack Steinke, Ansonia; Greg Wentworth, Ansonia; Ty Cates, Arcanum; Zach Jones, Bethel; Matt McCord, Covington; Gene Studebaker, Covington; Brent Halderman, Franklin Monroe; Travis Brunk, Mississinawa Valley; Tim Beck, National Trail; Tony McWhinney, National Trail; Kyle Booher, Newton; Corey Jay, Tri-Village; Caleb Betzner, Twin Valley South; Dale Spitler, Twin Valley South
Kevin Harrod, Ansonia; Mike Eilerman, Arcanum; Ryan Masin, Bethel; Toby Jones, Bradford; Darin Rhoades, Covington; Barry Koffer, Franklin Monroe; Kyle Linder, Mississinawa Valley; Josh Unger, National Trail; Matt Koopman, Newton; Mitch Heltsley, Tri-County North; Kyler Burns, Tri-Village; David Marker, Twin Valley South
Craig Fosnaugh, Ansonia; Logan Beam, Arcanum; Daniel Roock, Bethel; Jordan Hackett, Bradford; Dustin Kimmel, Covington; Micah Fisher, Franklin Monroe; Michael Leeper, Mississinawa Valley; Andy Blevins, National Trail; Kyle Hutchinson, Newton; Dan Baumbarger, Tri-County North; Sam Lindamood, Tri-Village; Derek Smith, Twin Valley South
Player of the Year - Matt McCord, Covington
Coach of the Year - Chad Cramer, Ansonia