East Wake Academy and Neuse Charter are 25 miles apart, in different counties and have never been in the same conference. But they share a rivalry.
The two charter schools compete year-round for the County Cup, a competition that awards points for each head-to-head win in middle school and varsity athletics. In the Cup’s first two years, it’s stayed in Wake County with the Eagles.
The Cup, an idea hatched by EWA athletics director Brett Bystricky, has livened up a matchup that otherwise would be hard to call a rivalry. Neuse Charter packs its gym for conference games against nearby Princeton, but the Cougars players also make sure to circle their games with EWA on the calendar.
“We’re evenly-matched schools when you look at different academic things,” Neuse Charter AD Gail Browning said. “There was so much in common. Our board and their board were friends – or they communicated quite a bit, size-wise, student makeup, just a lot of things were similar.”
On Monday, the two sides completed their basketball meetings for the season. Neuse Charter’s girls dominated with a 53-17 win, while the East Wake Academy boys won 68-49.
Kiondra Ford became the first player in Neuse Charter history to notch a triple-double. Ford, a junior, completed the feat in less than three full quarters, ending the night with 19 points, 12 steals and 10 rebounds for the Cougars (6-1).
After beating the Eagles (2-7) 62-18 in the first meeting, coach Daniel Casey knew his Neuse Charter team could be aggressive on defense. The Cougars forced 29 steals and led 18-1 after one quarter, 36-7 at halftime and had a running clock kick in when the lead grew to 40 with less than two minutes to go.
The Cougars also got 12 points from McKenna Kersat and 10 from Lacey Jones. Julissa Dean, who scored late in the fourth, is the only senior on the roster.
The goal for Casey’s team is to compete for a Carolina 1A Conference title. League play begins later this month.
“I think that door is open right now. We’ve got to finish better, we’ve got to do a little better job in our halfcourt offense,” Casey said. “Some of the wins that we’ve had are on the easy side, so we haven’t always had a scenario where we’ve had to play tight, halfcourt games, so we’ve got to work on that.”
Rachel Stacy led EWA with seven points. Senior Rachel Thompson added three points and six rebounds. Sydney Brantley had a team-high seven rebounds.
East Wake Academy rose to the challenge of the rivalry contest after having lost to the Cougars 59-51 a few weeks earlier.
The Eagles (4-5), who have yet to win in North Central Athletic Conference play (0-4 NCAC), led 33-25 at halftime against the two-time Carolina 1A champs.
EWA had not beaten the Cougars since 2011, a seven-game stretch. Neuse Charter (0-5) is a much different team this year with a new coach Dale Ham and a slew of new players.
Coach Anthony Rodgers got balanced scoring from his team as starters Brian Wolf (13 points), Isaac Phillips (13 points), Drake Weatherspoon (10 points) and Sean Bennett (14 points) all got into double figures. The only senior starter is Matthew Streit.
“We’re a young team, so we only recently really started to develop our talent level, so we’re now beginning to find ourselves,” Rodgers said. “If we play like we’ve been playing I think we can compete (in the NCAC).”
Neuse Charter was led by 12 points apiece from starter Jackson Hester and reserve freshman Xavier Deck.