by Chris Hunt
For a sports writer, there’s nothing like covering a state championship team at the high school level. It’s quite gratifying to recount the story of an athlete pouring his or her heart out on the path to title town, playing only for the school name on their uniform instead of possible endorsements, fame and money.
I had a chance to cover a state title team last year: the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A champion North Mecklenburg girls soccer team. The two-hour drive to N.C. State University’s campus in Raleigh for the championship game was well worth the trip. North Meck defeated Wilmington Hoggard in penalty kicks, setting off a wild celebration just outside the penalty box, and I saw that firsthand.
I’ll remember that moment for years. Not just because I was there to see junior Lisa Myers convert the Vikings’ final penalty kick and become an instant heroin, but because I followed the team all postseason long. I got a chance to watch the team go from good to great.
Talk about a story that wrote itself.
Since then, we’ve added hometown newspapers in Mooresville and Denver, expanding our coverage, thus increasing the chances of following another state championship story. This year, I want to give you a heads-up so you can tag along. Below are the teams that are worth following as they try to become the Lake Norman area’s next state champion. I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, not their likelihood of capturing a championship:
Davidson Day girls soccer
Last season, the Patriots were a one-player team. That player, Bri Wills, an Appalachian State University signee, has scored more than 120 goals in the last two seasons. But this spring, Willis has a lot of help, which has the Patriots in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A championship conversation. Caitlyn Rodrigues, Max Foster and Madison Clark are a few of the names that made Davidson Day (16-5-1) a balanced lineup.
Davidson Day baseball
The Patriots made quite a splash in the program’s first season. At one point this spring, Rivals.com had Davidson Day (11-5) listed as a top-five squad in the NCISAA 1A rankings. A potent offense, with seven players batting better than .400, could take the Patriots to the top of those rankings and bring home a state crown.
East Lincoln boys track
East Lincoln won its sixth consecutive conference title last week, and now the Mustangs are eyeing a 2A Western Regional championship at Polk County High School on Saturday, May 14. Could a 2A state title be a possibility? Who knows? But Brather Cline (800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters), Marcus McDowell (400), Dillon Belles (3,200) and the Knights’ 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams could compete for titles on the campus of Greensboro’s N.C. A&T State University on May 21.
Hough girls soccer
Six rising juniors from North Mecklenburg’s 2010 state title team transferred to the first-year program, including goalie and finals MVP Emily Rusk and all-state performer Allison Stearns. That experience helped the Huskies win 18 games and earned a share of the I-MECK 4A conference title (Lake Norman High School took the tie-breaker and the league’s No. 1 seed with a 1-0 win over Hough on March 29). On May 11, Hough played at Monroe Sun Valley (8-9-3), the No. 2 seed from the Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference. Will North Meck’s former players – with plenty of help from their new teammates – do it again?
Hopewell track and field
The Titans’ boys team finished second at the 4A Western Regional meet, and it could be pretty tough to get by champion Vance at the state meet Saturday, May 14, in Greensboro. Hopewell, however, has a good chance to bring home one or more individual state titles.
The Titans’ Anthony Bynum (200-meter dash), Cheyenne Hutchinson (100 hurdles) and Tyriq Jackson (110 hurdles) all won regional titles last week. So did Hopewell’s 4x100 relay team. Bynum, a Mississippi State recruit, was 0.06 seconds away from a regional title in the 100.
Lake Norman girls soccer
After winning 19 games last season and losing in the regional semifinals to North Mecklenburg, the Lake Norman Wildcats returned a loaded lineup that won a share of the I-MECK 4A conference title and the league’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Taylor Waters, Kelsey Palmer and goalkeeper Rachel Harrill lead a talented cast with plenty of big-game experience. Lake Norman (17-1-1) hosted wild card Marion McDowell (11-7) on May 11.
Lake Norman softball
The Wildcats reached the regional semifinals in 2010 with 26 victories, but this season, they want more. Lake Norman (21-1) unseated two-time I-MECK 4A conference champion North Meck, claiming the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. The Wildcats’ offense boasts six hitters with a batting average higher than .400 (in at least 20 games played) and four pitchers with ERAs below 1.53. Ace Kayla Pine is 9-0 with a 0.76 ERA and 65 strikeouts.
Lake Norman Charter girls soccer
This team could be a dynasty in the making. As a wild card last season, the Knights advanced to the 1A regional semifinals and finished with 19 victories. This season, just one senior graces the roster and Lake Norman Charter still delivered with a 16-3 mark. Sophomore Rina Leonidas leads the team with 16 goals and 21 assists. Freshman Riley Kane has 15 goals and six assists, while sophomore Carolina Sanchez scored 12 times. The Knights travel to Kernersville Bishop McGuinness (9-6) on Saturday, May 14, for the first round of the playoffs.
North Lincoln girls track and field
The Knights’ girls track team won its first conference title in school history last week, but a team state title might be a bit of a reach. That doesn’t mean North Lincoln can’t bring home a few individual state championships. Jill Baxter – an Anderson University recruit – might be the best track athlete in Lincoln County, and she’ll try to prove she’s the state’s top high jumper at the Class 2A meet. Megan Withers (throws), Savannah Fornsell (3,200) and Allie Castro (800 and 1,600) could also makes some noise at states.
SouthLake Christian baseball
If the Eagles ever are going to win a state championship, this is the year. The last three seasons have ended in the state semifinals, but this year’s team boasts nine seniors, led by sluggers Jared Fortune, Nathan Sharp and Palmer Coleman. The Eagles (23-4-1) swept the Metrolina Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles, and coach Rich Landis said his team should be one of the top four seeds in the NCISAA 2A tournament.
Here’s hoping that at least one Lake Norman-area team brings back the hardware.
I’m always looking for another good story.