The Smith Center is barely five miles from the campus of Chapel Hill High School, but Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletics Association final will mark the first time Tigers coach Sherry Norris and her girls’ basketball team will play there.
Norris took some players to the Smith Center for a team camp a few years ago, but the Tigers have yet to play a varsity game on the University of North Carolina campus.
Chapel Hill (31-0) will meet Hickory (29-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Smith Center for the NCHSAA 3A championship.
“We would love to see everyone from Chapel Hill and Orange County come out and support the team,” Norris said. “And I hope they’re all wearing black and gold.”
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Hickory High, located 146 miles from Chapel Hill, will be the home team. The NCHSAA switches the visitor-home each year, and this time the East Region champions will be the visitors in all eight boys’ and girls’ games Saturday – putting the top-seeded Chapel Hill Tigers in black for the first time in the postseason.
Chapel Hill won its first basketball championship in 1981 under Norris. The Tigers made it back to the championship game last year in Raleigh, where they lost to Charlotte’s Harding University High.
Hickory has played in five championship games, winning three – 1995, 1998, 1999. The 1999 Red Tornadoes finished 32-0.
“We’ve got a great tradition,” said coach Barbara Helms, who is in her 12th year leading Hickory. “There’s always a bit of high expectations for our team. We want to continue that tradition.”
Both teams have potent offenses, each averaging 70 points a game. Three Red Tornadoes average double-digit scoring: Danasia Witherspoon (17.6), Yazman Hannah (16.2) and Brittany Dixon (10.8).
“We’re two really good teams with very athletic players,” Helms said.
Hickory is one of two 3A schools to win 32 games, and Norris would like Chapel Hill to become the third.
“I’ve been telling the girls that they’ve been making history all year,” Norris said. “They’re the first Chapel Hill team to finish a regular season undefeated. They’re the first to win 31 games. We approach this game as another chance to make more history.”