Notebook: best seasons yet for Apex, Panther Creek and Holly Springs

mblake@newsobserver.comJune 13, 2014 

Panther Creek and Holly Springs high schools, which both opened in 2006, experienced new heights of athletic success this year.

Panther Creek won two conference titles and its first NCHSAA team title (the Catamounts do have a gymnastics state title that was not NCHSAA), had two players win the 4A doubles title for the second straight year, played for the girls soccer championship and went to regionals in boys basketball.

The Catamounts went to the postseason in 11 of 13 bracketed sports, including for the first time in boys lacrosse, baseball and softball.

Holly Springs had arguably its best season across all sports since joining the present-day Southwest Wake Athletic Conference.

It had a track and swimming state champion, four conference players of the year and one conference championship team – wrestling – that was a 4A East runner-up. The Golden Hawks also went to the postseason in 10 of 13 bracketed sports.

Apex, which was established in 1920, had arguably its best athletics season in school history as well. The Cougars won the NCHSAA title in boys basketball, were state runners-up in three other sports, finished top five in five others. Apex won at least a share of five conference championships and had six players of the year.

Conference Cup: Green Hope edged Apex and Panther Creek for the SWAC Wells Fargo Conference Cup. Points are given in each SWAC sport based on overall finish. The standings were as follows: Green Hope 141.5, Apex 132, Panther Creek 121.5, Holly Springs 100.5, Middle Creek 98, Athens Drive 81.5, Cary 77.5, Fuquay-Varina 71.5.

Cardinal Gibbons was second to Chapel Hill in the Big Eight 3A Conference.

Moore to represent USA: Green Hope’s Hannah Moore has been named one of six swimmers to represent Team USA at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. The swimming competition will be held Aug. 17-22.

“It is just crazy,” Moore said Wednesday. “I didn’t think I would make it because their are so many fast girls. I’ve never been out of the country swimming. It is so exciting.”

Moore won the 500-yard freestyle at the 2013 Winter Junior Nationals and added two more top four finishes in other events at the championships. During the high school season, she broke the N.C. High School Athletic Association record in the 500 by more than six seconds.

She found out that she had been selected when her future roommate at the University of Michigan, Clara Smiddy of Miami, called with the news after reading a USA Swimming release.

“I’m still waiting to get the details,” Moore said. “I’m expecting to hear something soon.”

Smiddy and Moore will room in China before reporting to the Wolverines.

Moore doesn’t know which events she will swim in China, although she suspects she’ll be in the 400-meter freestyle. The individual medleys and 200 backstroke are other possibilities.

SWAC success: There were only four sports this year where a team from the SWAC was not one of the last four (or top four in sports that do not have brackets) standing.

They were volleyball, girls basketball, baseball and boys tennis. The last SWAC team standing in volleyball and boys tennis lost to the eventual state champs. The last baseball and boys tennis team lost one round prior to the state’s semifinals.

Coaches leave: Green Hope is looking for a new boys and girls swimming coach after Lauren Nosal resigned in mid-April to move to Chicago. Nosal had been the coach for the boys’ back-to-back 4A titles. Green Hope must also replace girls tennis coach Beth Hedgepeth, who is moving to Wilmington.

Panther Creek also needs a new volleyball coach after one year under Lindsey O’Connell.

Young hired: Holly Springs will have a new boys basketball coach for the first time since it opened. Girls basketball coach Richard Young, who has led the Hawks for the last three years, will move over to caoch the boys after Thurman Jordan was relieved of his duties. Jordan took the Hawks to three straight postseasons and coached all seven seasons of the school’s existence. The Hawks were 10-15 last year.

Big Eight ideas: The Big Eight 3A Conference had some interesting ways of doing spring sports.

In softball and baseball, the schools play a a home-and-away series-style format. The teams play at one location on Tuesday and the other on Friday, giving their matchups more of a “series” feel.

In boys lacrosse, it adopted a conference tournament and only requires its members to play each other once during the regular season. That freed up nonconference dates, which allowed teams to schedule more freely.

Cardinal Gibbons and Chapel Hill used their nonconference dates to play other top teams. Start-up programs like Northern Vance, meanwhile, played teams that were more on their level than having to play Gibbons and Chapel Hill twice.

Teaching how to stunt: Stunt is a new sport that should start at many Wake County high schools next spring. Stunt is similar to competitive cheerleading but has rules, regulations and schedules that will probably allow it to be considered a sport by federal officials.

It could be a headache for athletics directors. Stunt takes place in the gym, and 5-12 other spring sports varsity and junior varsity teams already have to fight for gym space on rainy days.

But if you’ve seen how packed the stands are for conference cheerleading championships, you get the idea that this could be a bit of a moneymaker for schools.

More volleyball teams: This fall, there is a chance you’ll see a freshman volleyball team in addition to junior varsity and varsity. There are only a few spots on a volleyball team, and many girls were getting cut. This allows for more participation.

It could also lead to some success stories like we’ve seen at Cardinal Gibbons. Gibbons sophomore Emma Longley went from not even making the junior varsity team as a freshman to starting for the 3A state champs this past season.

Wondering what if: Boys lacrosse coaches seem to have less turnover in the Triangle than girls lacrosse, where the 2011, 2012 and 2013 state champs all had their coaches leave after the season.

It makes you wonder: What if boys and girls lacrosse weren’t both scheduled during the same season, allowing one coach to manage one team in the fall and the other in the spring? The same is done in tennis, golf and soccer – though not in basketball, track or cross country.

It wouldn’t be a smooth transition. Although the two sports rely on almost all of the same fundamentals, the rules differ greatly.

In areas where boys lacrosse is just now getting started, the teams are made up of curious boys soccer, basketball and football players who must – in most cases – choose lacrosse over either baseball or track. A curious girls lacrosse player, meanwhile, must currently choose between softball, soccer, track and lacrosse.

It’s nice to think about, but I would bet schools that already field hockey in the fall would likely protest any such move.

All-conference: The more I see other area leagues do their all-conference lists, the more I’m convinced the SWAC does it right. There is always a first and second team and always a player of the year – yes, some are so weary of negative feedback from parents that they do not vote a player of the year.

There is no guarantee each team will get someone on the all-conference team.

It’s a fair system, and because of the thought it takes to do each one, the SWAC all-conference teams are held in higher regard by prep media like me.

Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps

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