High School Highlights

Gray’s Creek likes chances in state soccer playoffs

19 James FaatzThe months of sacrificing time off during the summer to devote to off-season practice is showing dividends for the Gray’s Creek soccer team.

This year the Bears swept the regular season and tournament titles in the Patriot Athletic Conference, and opened play in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A state playoffs with a 4-2 overtime win against Asheboro.
At this writing, Coach Bryan Pagan’s team, 19-5, is waiting to find out who it will play in the second round of the NCHSAA playoffs, either Wilson Fike or Pittsboro Northwood, in a game that was tentatively scheduled for last Saturday.
Pagan thinks, as far as chemistry is concerned, the Bears have reached their stride offensively. He feels the strength of this year’s team is being able to possess the ball.

“We pass really well,’’ he said. “Our Achilles heel the whole year has been finishing. For whatever reason things are starting to click. Guys are moving in the right positions, staying onside.’’

The Bears have struggled with a variety of injuries during the season, but some of the ailing players have healed, and Pagan has been able to plug in less experienced players in key positions who have stepped up, like sophomores Connor Boyle and Vancy Ruiz.

19 02 Seth WallaceAnother key performer is veteran goalkeeper Ryan Dukes, a senior. Through Nov. 2 according to the statistics at NCPrepSports.net, he had recorded 94 saves while allowing 16 goals. “He’s done an amazing job for us as well,’’ Pagan said.

Offensively, Pagan feels a strength of his team is it doesn’t rely on one player to score all the goals. Eric Chavez is the team leader in goals through Nov. 2 with 16.

“It really takes a lot of the pressure off,’’ Pagan said of being versatile scoring. “People take a little more ownership when they know it’s collective rather than one or two individuals.’’

Two players who play a critical role in helping distribute the ball for the Bears are James Faatz and Seth Wallace.

Pagan describes Faatz, a center-midfielder, as a player crucial to maintaining possession of the ball.

“If it gets to him he knows where to get it to,’’ Pagan said. “He’s calm on the ball, makes good decisions for us and is kind of a catalyst. Anything we need to bail out or need somebody to facilitate the middle he’s a great option for us.’’
The other key performer is Seth Wallace, who plays on the wing. “He’s done a great job winning stuff on the outside and serving stuff into the box in dangerous areas,’’ Pagan said.
“He’s inspiring, super, super athletic and you’re not going to beat him off the dribble. He’s a strong kid.’’
Faatz agrees with Pagan that chemistry is a strong point of this Gray’s Creek team, with communication and good passing also being key.

He thinks the key to success in the postseason is intensity. “I think if we come in hot in the first half, the first ten minutes, and pop a few goals in we can be dangerous against any school in the playoffs,’’ he said. “We can show that Cumberland County has some pretty good soccer schools.’’

While Cumberland County doesn’t have a public high school with a rich state playoff tradition in soccer, Wallace thinks the Bears have the potential to make some noise.

”A Gray’s Creek team like this could surprise some people and have some future upsets,’’ Wallace said. ”We were kind of rocky at the beginning of the year with our finishing. We’ve definitely had some people step up and other people growing into roles because of injuries.

“We’re not a one-man team. Everyone has a role.’’

Looking to the remainder of the state playoffs, Pagan said he’s learned the postseason has a lot to do with seeding and tackling each matchup.

“I like our chances this year because we are more well-balanced than we’ve been in the past,’’ he said. “I feel like we can hold teams to low scores and score when we need to.

“Our strength is in the middle of the field and in our possession. That gives us a fighting chance to match up against anybody. If we stay uninjured we have a chance to make it pretty deep in the playoffs.’’

Picture 1: James Faatz 

Picture 2: Seth Wallace


Earl's weekly predictions: 11/07/19

earlThe final pieces of the football puzzle fall into place Friday night as the regular season comes to an end for teams in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Saturday around lunchtime, coaches and fans will be sitting in front of smartphones, iPads and laptops hitting refresh over and over as they wait for the NCHSAA to post this year’s state playoff brackets so they can get their first certain look at what the path to a state football championship will look like.

I both love and hate this weekend — love it for the excitement of finding out where everybody is paired and hate it for the annual agony of incorrect information that causes seedings to have to be recalculated and brackets redrawn.

Here’s hoping everyone pays attention to the data when they report their final records to the NCHSAA so we can all get back to business as usual Saturday afternoon.
The record: 59-16
I had another perfect week last Friday, going 7-0, to improve the score for the season to 59-16, 78.7 percent.

This will be the last week of anything that comes close to easy predictions. Once the state playoffs begin next Friday it gets a lot more complicated.
E.E. Smith at Cape Fear - The red-hot Colts are looking for a piece of the conference title and hoping for some help to allow them to move up higher in the playoff seedings.
Cape Fear 28, E.E. Smith 14.
Westover at Gray’s Creek - Gray’s Creek should wrap up the regular season with its third win in a row against a struggling Wolverine team.
Gray’s Creek 30, Westover 17.
Jack Britt at Seventy-First - Both teams are looking to rebound from losses. I like Jack Britt’s chances better.
Jack Britt 24, Seventy-First 18.
Pine Forest at Terry Sanford - Reminder to Bulldog fans, this game will be played at Fayetteville State’s Jeralds Stadium as Terry Sanford celebrates Senior Night.
It’s a big game for both teams but even bigger for Terry Sanford as it seeks to wrap up a piece of the Patriot Conference title and the No. 1 3-A seed from the conference in the state playoffs.
Terry Sanford 30, Pine Forest 22.
South View at Overhills - The Tigers are looking to seal the No. 1 4-A playoff spot and a share of the Patriot Conference title. I think they’ll get it. 
South View 32, Overhills 12.
Douglas Byrd at Fairmont - The Eagles try to end a difficult season with a win.
Fairmont 21, Douglas Byrd 14.
Other games: Trinity Christian 31, Southlake Christian 16.

Golden Bulls’ Smith has high ceiling as runner

18 Octavious SmithOctavious Smith is only in his second season running cross country for the E.E. Smith Golden Bulls.

Based on his performance so far, there’s a pretty high ceiling awaiting him in the years he’s got left as to what he can accomplish on the high school level.

“He is a pure distance runner,’’ said Roz Major-Williams, one of Smith's cross country coaches, when asked to describe how good he is. “He has so much ability. He does not even know his own ability.’’

Smith, a sophomore, dominated the field in the recent Patriot Athletic Conference cross country meet at South View High School.

He won with a time of 16:09.10. Coming in second and third behind him were a pair of Cape Fear runners, Jonathan Piland at 17:04.40 and Julius Ferguson at 17:05.20.

Cape Fear coach Matthew Hanes wasn’t surprised at Smith’s winning margin.

“I really didn’t think anybody would touch Octavius,’’ Hanes said. “He wasn’t going to be a factor in the team scores, but individually I knew we couldn’t touch him.’’

Smith said he’s run about five times on the South View course and felt comfortable with it coming into the conference meet. “It was a mental race,’’ he said as he found himself in the lead nearly the whole way.

“I would just think he was right behind me at all times,’’ Smith said of his competition.

Major-Williams said Smith’s cross country talent is natural, and the challenge so far has been getting him to open up and go full throttle instead of trying to hold back too much when he races. “Every time he finished he said I could have run faster,’’ Major-Williams said.

That showed during the regular season this year as Smith consistently placed among the top ten runners during the regular season meets but rarely came home with an individual win.

“He was trying to save it for the end,’’ Major-Williams said. “We finally got him to the point to just go all out and see what he has at the end.’’

In the conference meet, Major-Williams decided to give Smith a time of 15:59 to aim for, which he came within about 10 seconds of achieving.

“He took off and still had energy left when he finished,’’ Major-Williams said. She’s convinced he can break the 15-minute barrier for a 5K run.

He’s shooting to qualify for the state cross country meet for a second year in a row.

He’ll have to survive this year’s regional meet first, which was held prior to the publication of this article on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Northwood High School in Pittsboro.

“I think he has an excellent shot of getting back this year,’’ Major-Williams said of the state meet, which is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 9, at Ivey M. Redmon Park in Kernersville.

“If he will just run his race and not be afraid, lay it out on the line, he should make it to the states,’’ Major-Williams said. “I think he has a pretty good head on his shoulders. He listens well and tries to follow direction.’’

Smith thinks the key to victory at the regional and state levels is simple. “Don’t get stuck in the middle,’’ he said, referring to the pack of runners.

Both the regional and state meet courses have more hills than the South View course, but Smith doesn’t think that’s a problem.

“I believe the hilly courses are my strong suit if that makes sense,’’ he said.

That and his raw talent for the sport. “It just comes naturally,’’ Major-Williams said.

Scholar Athletes of the Week: 11/06/19

19 01 Carlos CallenderCarlos Callender

E.E. Smith • Football, indoor and outdoor track • Senior

Callender has a grade point average of 4.20. He is a member of the National Honor Society, Student Government Association, Distributive Education Clubs of America, Future Business Leaders of America, Science Olympiad, Campus Life, Fayetteville Technical Community College Honor Society and the Academy of Scholars.

MiKayla Staten

E.E. Smith • Cheerleading • Senior

Staten has a grade point average of 3.68. She’s the captain of the cheerleading squad. In addition, she’s a member of the Academy of Scholars, the National Honor Society, Bulls for Christ, Campus 19 02 mikaylaLife, Student 2 Student, Student Government Association, Academically and Intellectually Gifted, Junior Volunteer for Cape Fear Valley Hospital and Project Uplift at the University of North Carolina.

Lack of experience no handicap for LeComte

17 01 AmberAmber LeComte is finishing her first year coaching girls cross country at Terry Sanford High School, and she’s already given herself a higher bar to clear next season.

LeComte, who had no previous experience coaching the sport when she took over at her alma mater this season, guided the Bulldogs to victory in the Patriot Athletic Conference cross country meet and saw sophomore Rainger Pratt take home the individual championship.

A softball player during her days at Terry Sanford, LeComte said the biggest challenge she faced taking over cross country was learning how to train the team to succeed in competitive running.

She reached out to other coaches for advice and also got input from the runners on her team, including Pratt.

Pratt, a sophomore who has been running cross country since the age of seven, said the team was a little bit concerned about LeComte’s lack of coaching experience but felt she was open to working with them.
“We kind of taught her ways that made us better runners,’’ Pratt said. “We definitely worked together and meshed more as we got closer.’’

Although Terry Sanford did well in the regular season, winning all three in-season conference meets while also competing in a variety of invitationals, LeComte still wasn’t feeling terribly confident when it came time for the conference meet.

“I did not feel like the favorite,’’ she said. “South View has a very large team, a lot of people. The more people you have running in these meets, the more likely you are to get points based on performance.’’
17 02 updated terry sanfordTerry Sanford only had six runners competing in the conference meet.

“We needed at least four or five of our girls to finish in the top 20 to get the points,’’ LeComte said.

Pratt won with a time of 20:21.90 to edge second-place Iris Terwilliger of Cape Fear.

Emma Morgan placed 10th for the Bulldogs with a time of 22:20.60. The Bulldogs then swept the final three spots in the top 20 with Brinlee Risenmay, Marissa Morris and Kaitlyn Wayne crossing the finish line in order at 18th, 19th and 20th.

The Bulldogs actually tied Pine Forest in team points with 65 each, but the Bulldogs got the championship when their sixth runner, Jasmin Singh, edged the next Pine Forest runner by less than seven seconds to clinch the victory.
LeComte knew Pratt was going to take the individual title when she saw the look on her face as the came around the track on the South View football field near the end of the race.

“I knew she was going to blow them out of the water,’’ LeComte said.

Pratt ran the South View course a lot during her freshman season with the Bulldogs and felt comfortable with it.

“There’s a woods part and some short downhills,’’ Pratt said. “I used that and the curves to my advantage.’’

Pratt qualified for the state meet last year and feels she’s got a good chance again this season. To get to the state meet, she had to place high enough in the regionals, which were held prior to the publication of this article on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Northwood High School near Pittsboro.

The state meet is on Saturday, Nov. 9, at Ivey M. Redmon Park in Kernersville.

“I usually run really well at regionals,’’ Pratt said. “As a team, I think we can do really well."

Picture 1: Amber LeComte

Picture 2: from L-R, Brinlee Risenmay, Emma Morgan, Evan Mason (head boys coach), Rainger Pratt, Kaitlyn Wayne, Jasmin Singh

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