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.
Cardinal Gibbons was second to Chapel Hill in the Big Eight 3A Conference.
“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.
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.
Panther Creek also needs a new volleyball coach after one year under Lindsey O’Connell.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.