Apex’s senior class has watched the Cougars play for three straight N.C. High School Athletic Association championships, going 14-1 in that span with two titles, including last season.
This year, Cardinal Gibbons’ move from 3A to 4A gives Apex a clear rival for the right to return to the title.
Last season’s final N&O top 10
1. Cardinal Gibbons (17-4): The Crusaders haven’t lost to an in-state team since 2013. Mark Schachte, Jack Shelton and Charles Van Dyke lead the attack.
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2. Apex (20-2): Coach John Hayden’s son Jack (51 goals, 44 assists) engineers the offense. The defense, already among the best in the state, returns everybody including defender Sean Seaver and Tommy DeLuca.
3. Middle Creek (18-2): New coach Nic Holota has some firepower with junior Jared Medwar (62 goals, 31 assists) and sophomore Owen Caputo (62 goals, 41 assists). The Mustangs’ only two losses were to Apex.
4. Ravenscroft (15-2): The NCISAA runners-up have a returning all-state player in Drew Davis (41 goals, 24 assists). Jack Newall (19 goals, 11 assists) and Troy Jones (18 goals) are also back.
5. Leesville Road (15-2): Davis Sampere’s faceoffs and goalie Graham Holmes’ saves were key for the Pride, who return four leading scorers: Griffin McNamara, Eric Fitz, Andrew Crane and Alex Shearer.
6. Athens Drive (13-6): Faceoff specialist Peyton Smith and Worth Lineberry (27 goals) will pace the Jaguars.
7. East Chapel Hill (12-5): Senior Chris Cox (62 goals, 22 goals) leads the attack while Vance Perkins (70 save percentage) mans the goal.
8. Enloe (13-5): The Eagles return Caelan Eckard (61 goals 44 assists), Dan Izatt (24 goals, 87 groundballs) and Rehn Bumgardener (18 goals). David Pryor (72 groundballs) is also back at longstick mid and Nathan Hames at goalie.
9. Broughton (13-4): Defender Mitch Snyder (45 goals, 46 assists), a High Point recruit, was the team’s top scorer. William Rice (38 goals) and Austen Bell (97 groundballs) are also back for the Caps. Bell and Sam Stein work faceoff.
10. Chapel Hill (12-7): With Gibbons out of the way, the Tigers are the favorites in the 1A/2A/3A East. Junior Sean Voelkel is committed to St. Joseph’s and goalie Kyle Hornik was all-conference.
Other teams to watch
Carrboro (7-7): William Cores (37 goals, 16 assists) and Andrew Montross (21 goals) are back for the Jaguars. Chase Bolesky handles the faceoffs.
Green Hope (10-7): Jack McAulay, Tucker Burkinshaw, Nolan Paussa, Harrison Wynne, Jack Larkin and Aidan Callahan are ready to put up a lot of goals. Junior goalie Conor Ryan is a three-year starter.
Holly Springs (10-8): Holly Springs also had a young team last year. The Golden Hawks return senior Davis Ferguson (38 goals, 13 assists), Caleb Ferguson, Tanner Yates and Justin Boone.
Millbrook (9-7): The Wildcats return Joe Cooper (29 goals), Garrett Patnesky (21 goals) and goalie Josh Madey.
Panther Creek (8-11): Conner Crespi, Jake Kappler and Caleb Cross return to last year’s playoff team.
Individuals to watch
Jacob Bass, Sr., Northwood: Scored 28 goals; nine assists for 5-9 Chargers.
Wesley Roberson, Jr., Northwood: 106 groundballs; won 80 percent of faceoffs.
Tyler Thompson, Jr. Jordan: Had 134 groundballs and won 70 percent of faceoffs for 8-8 Falcons.
Sean Tobin, Jr., Cedar Ridge: Scored 37 goals, had 23 assists for 10-8 Red Wolves.
Zach Wright, Sr., Orange: Scored 59 goals and 19 assists for 9-10 Panthers.