Panther Creek enters this season on a 25-match winning streak, and it doesn’t look like another in-state foe will stop it.
The Catamounts have an embarrassment of riches.
Panther Creek returns its entire lineup from last year’s state title team, including three-time 4A doubles champs Sammi Smith and Jordan Strickland. Smith is ranked No. 1 in the state among seniors, Strickland No. 3 and teammate Orla LaBiche is No. 9.
Cardinal Gibbons, last year’s 3A champ, will give Panther Creek some competition as it moves up to 4A.
Teams to watch
Apex (12-5): The Cougars made the 4A playoffs as a wild-card team last season and bring back junior Elizabeth Johnson and seniors Melissa Romano and Sydney Oylan.
Broughton (17-2): Bad news for everyone else – the Capitals had five freshmen on last year’s two-loss team.
Cardinal Gibbons (28-0): The Crusaders return four top singles players: 2014 NCHSAA tournament MVP Lizzie Galush, who’s moving up to No. 1; Jenna Knors, one half of the 3A doubles champs; Summer Jacobs and Kate Freed. Junior Caroline Igo looks ready to break into the top six after playing at No. 7 last year, and the varsity’s final singles spots likely to come down to two sisters; juniors Kristen and ninth-grader Karly Fitzgerald.
Carrboro (15-3): Sophomore Jessie Ille had just one loss – in the NCHSAA 2A singles championship. She and returning letter-winners Abby Rader and Emine Arcasoy helped the Jaguars reach the 2A East final.
Cary Academy (26-2): The Chargers were the NCISAA 3A runner-up by a narrow 5-4 margin. Junior Ellie Johnson and sophomores Camryn Rossa and Taylor Timinskas are back.
Chapel Hill (14-7): Incoming ninth-grader Carolina Coch could contend for the No. 1 singles spot. Returning letter-winners Gabe Chew, Gabby Kimec, Hailey Polsky, Emily Molina and Joy Stouffer still face challenges from newcomers Christina Park and Ellen Yu.
Clayton (17-1): Two-time Greater Neuse champ Carmelle Joyner is a junior. The Comets have 78 straight conference victories and graduated just one player from last year’s team. Also back: Stephanie Rushing, Hannah Kellum and Stephanie Wilder.
Garner (11-4): Junior lefty Christine Wilkins played No. 3 last season and sophomore Hannah Byrd was No. 7. With the cupboard almost bare otherwise, second-year coach Morgan Jones gave just about everyone on the softball team a racket.
Green Hope (16-6): The Falcons have fallen in the 4A East final to Panther Creek in back-to-back years. Senior Karena Zhang is ranked No. 6 in the state. Seniors Ellie and Sara Ackerson and sophomore Ana Horvat also return.
East Chapel Hill (19-3): The Wildcats have won the conference title every year since it opened in 1996. But two things have changed since last year: NCHSAA Hall of Fame coach Lindsey Linker has retired, and Cardinal Gibbons has joined the PAC-6. Veteran Chapel Hill High coach Nick Walker, at Linker’s personal request, came out of retirement last month to take over the program this fall. The Wildcats have defending PAC-6 singles champion Victoria Jones back for her sophomore season.
N.C. Science and Math (12-1): The NCHSAA 2A runner-up returns single state qualifier Katherine Li and doubles qualifier Sara Yuan.
North Raleigh Christian (15-5): Lauren French and Anne Woodard are the only two seniors on a team that will feature three middle school-aged players.
Panther Creek (20-0): Should Smith and Strickland win the 4A doubles title this year, they will become just the second pair to win four NCHSAA doubles championships together. Amanda Cyr, No. 7 among juniors, junior Aishani Tingare and senior Savannah Gray round out last year’s top six.
Sanderson (18-3): The co-Cap-8 champs have 27 varsity players. Freshman Sibel Tanik, Safia Anthony, Dylan Cannon, Kate Griffin and Hannah Scott-Holshouser should keep the Spartans one of the state’s best.
St. David’s (17-3): The Warriors made it three in a row, taking the NCISAA 2A title again.
Triton (10-2): The Two Rivers 3A champs will have good competition for their No. 1 spot with seniors Emily Neville and Madison Newton.
Union Pines (14-3): Cape Fear Valley Conference champs are led by 3A singles qualifiers Julianne Hall, a junior, and senior Mary Beth Jackson.
Voyager Academy (10-7): The NCHSAA 1A runner-up loses its top player from last year.
Wakefield (12-5): The Wolverines were ranked 10th in the state and return two-time 4A champ Susanne Boyden, a senior.
West Johnston (12-6): The Greater Neuse runner-ups’ goal is to go back to the state playoffs. Top returning players are senior Katherine Serrell and junior Sabrina Fink.
Mike Potter and Elliott Warnock contributed.
Individuals to watch
Player, Cl., School
Lauren Laughton, So., Riverside
4A singles state qualifier
Sarah Morse, Jr., Jordan-Matthews
2A doubles state qualifier
Jenna Stachowiak, So., Mid. Creek
4A doubles tate qualifier
Katherine Stallings, So., St. Mary’s
.750 winning pct.
Lindsay Tate, Sr., Jordan-Matthews
2A doubles state qualifier