The first time Jamella Smith saw Catherine Romaine, she hated her.
“That’s a big girl,” Smith thought.
Smith, not much taller than 5 feet at the time she was playing for Smith Middle School, didn’t like the way the almost 6-0 Romaine dominated the post for McDougle Middle.
“You couldn’t stop her,” Smith said. “I could jump, so every time she got to the basket I’d run over there and try to block her.
“I got a foul every time.”
Now, Smith and Romaine don’t like the idea that they’re going to be separated next year.
Romaine, now 6-2, is headed next season to Bucknell’s women’s basketball team. Smith is still considering where to play, but seems inclined toward southern schools, like Furman.
“It’s just been better and better all four years,” Smith said.
Smith was the conference player of the year, and Romaine won MVP honors in the post-season playoffs.
Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletics Association 3A championship was the last time they will wear Chapel Hill’s uniform in a varsity game.
“We started together our first year at Chapel Hill, and we’ve grown up together,” Romaine said.
“It’s been a great four years. We’ve had great teammates, talented players and a great coach.”
The feeling is mutual for Chapel Hill head coach Sherry Norris.
“Since they’ve been playing on the varsity team, it’s been nothing but a winning tradition for Chapel Hill,” Norris said.
Norris has nothing but nice things to say about all of her seniors.
She personally recruited Paige Timothy, she saw the 6-1 transfer student from Utah walking through the gym to a class. Timothy quickly learned the Tigers’ system and, in addition to providing valuable minutes in games, has been a great practice player against Romaine.
Jasmine Suitt, 5-9, also has been an excellent player coming off the bench for Chapel Hill. Deceptively quick, she was a good scorer but was especially adept at defense in the lane and rebounding.
Olivia Clayton seemed destined to be yet another strong post presence for the Tigers but injured her knee in just the third game of the season.
Romaine and Smith stand out as four-year starters.
The year before the Class of 2014 arrived at Chapel Hill High School, the Tigers finished 1-19. Their ninth-grade year, Chapel Hill went 13-12 and qualified for the playoffs. Romaine missed 10 of those 12 losses because of an injury.
In 2012, Chapel Hill finished 27-3. In 2013, the Tigers went 30-2. This year, they set a school record for wins and went 32-0 in reaching the state finals for a second straight year -- and winning it all this time with a 69-56 win Saturday over Hickory.
“They made history at Chapel Hill,” Norris said.