Athens Drive won its third N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship in the past four years in 2011, but it was an uphill battle.
The Jaguars were third in the Tri-Nine 4A Conference regular season, but with an asterisk. Sarah Bae, who is No. 1 in the North Carolina girls’ golf rankings, missed several regular-season matches. Even with Bae, the Jags were regional runner-up behind league rival Middle Creek.
Bae is the top-ranked player in the state, but coach Richard Alcorn said it would be tough for the Jaguars to stay on top.
“Even though we are the defending state champions, we finished third in the conference behind Green Hope and Middle Creek and second in the regional behind Middle Creek,” Alcorn said. “We were hit hard by graduation. I don’t see us as the favorite. We’ll be competitive but we’re definitely not as strong as the past few years. We’ll be in the mix, but Sarah is going to need some help.”
He said Green Hope and Middle Creek should be formidable again and believes Fuquay-Varina will be among the better teams.
Bae has been the North Carolina girls’ junior player of the year and was third in the NCHSAA championships in 2011. She also was a big part of the Jaguars’ title in 2009.
Junior Jackie Wallace also is back. Athens, which shot 481 to win the title, led a strong group of Tri-Nine teams a year ago. Middle Creek (528), Green Hope (567) and Apex (609) also qualified for the state finals.
Teams to watch
Middle Creek: The Mustangs won the 4A East Regional in 2011 and return two of their top three players, seniors Betsy Dohrer, a three-time state championship qualifier, and Britney Smith, who has qualified for the past two state finals. Katlyn West joined them in the state finals last year. Middle Creek shot a 528 in the NCHSAA 4A championships.
Green Hope: The Falcons were the Tri-Nine regular-season champions last year and return a strong nucleus with Maddie Lee, Sophie Riegel, Meghan Symonds and Maddie McClure.
Ravenscroft: The Ravens finished second in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association championships in 2011. Jessica Kittelberger was an all-NCISAA selection and tied for fifth in the N.C. Junior Girls’ Championship.
Garner: The Ceyrolles triplets, Nicole, Lauren and Arianna, give the Trojans a lot of firepower. Nicole and Lauren are two-time all-Greater Neuse 4A selections. Nicole has played in the state tournament in the past two years and Adrianna joined her in the state event last year. The three juniors are joined by sophomore Emily O’Neal.
Wake Forest-Rolesville: Junior Amanda Levy was 17th in the NCHSAA championships as a freshman and 30th last year. Sophomore Madie Fingers qualified for the regionals last year.
Fuquay-Varina: Sophomore Catherine Ashworth, 15th in the N.C. junior rankings, was the Tri-Nine 4A Player of the Year and tied for 10th in the 4A championships with a 159.
Holly Springs: Raven Brown qualified for the state finals in 2011 and will team with all-conference pick Leigha Holt.
Apex: The Cougars return senior Cari Albritton and sophomore Maria Cassas.
Smithfield-Selma: Kate Fleming and Sarah Cooke lead the deepest squads the school has fielded. Haley Talton and Parker Watson are outstanding freshmen. Coach Richard Byrd said he has been impressed with the team’s desire to improve.
Cardinal Gibbons: Sophomore Ellen Smith was the lowest freshman scorer in the state 3A tournament in 2011.
Sanderson: Jessica Perez, a state qualifier in 2011, helped the Spartans to a third-place finish in the Cap Eight 4A. Perez and sophomore Savannah Gowarty are among four returning starters.