Smithfield: Sports

North Johnston rolls by Neuse Charter girls as squads begin seasons of transition

North Johnston's Kaylynn Batten (12) dribbles the ball up the court as Neuse Charter guard Sakoyia Heath (12) challenges her during North’s win on Tuesday night.
North Johnston's Kaylynn Batten (12) dribbles the ball up the court as Neuse Charter guard Sakoyia Heath (12) challenges her during North’s win on Tuesday night.

The Neuse Charter and North Johnston girls’ basketball teams opened up their respective seasons against one another with quite a bit in common and despite the Panthers’ 61-18 win over the Cougars, the fact that each team faces a year of transition remains a certainty.

Jamie Johnson led North Johnston with 14 points and five steals. Tangela Williams added 10 points, eight rebounds and five steals, while Chandler Hines, Olivia Narron and Shae Suttles all pitched in with eight points apiece in the Panthers’ victory over the Cougars in just their second year as a program.

New road for Panthers

Gone for North Johnston are the familiar roads that led to the familiar schools that made up the old Northern Carolina Conference. The Panthers enter their first year as members of the 2A Eastern Plains Conference, a league with more than its fair share of basketball tradition.

Farmville Central is a traditional power. North Pitt routinely totals 15 wins a season. Southwest Edgecombe Coach Sandra Langley has enough experience coaching basketball that the gym is named after her. Washington is dropping down from the 3A ranks and is the conference’s largest school. Wilson Beddingfield, a second-round playoff team from a season ago, returns most of its players from that team.

“I really think it’s going to be extremely tough,” North Johnston coach Jay Poole said of the new conference. “ I think every night is going to be a battle and it’s going to be huge competition because you’re talking about a lot of tradition and a lot of history in girls basketball in this conference.”

Fortunately for the Panthers, North Johnston will put a team out on the court with much needed experience.

Guards Chandler Hines and Jamie Johnson are four-year varsity players. Kaylynn Batten and Sam Richardson come into their third seasons on the varsity level while Olivia Narron and Tangela Williams earned valuable playing time a season ago as underclassmen.

As the Panthers transition into a new conference, their reliance on their transition game will be paramount to their success.

“We’re a different team than last year,” Poole said, referring to being more of a perimeter-oriented team this season. “We’re smaller but quicker so I think we’re going to have to play to our strengths. We’re going to have to fly around the ball a little bit more, gang rebound together and take advantage of some opportunities that we can create off defense.”

NCHSAA: Meet the Cougars

For the Cougars, a second year program that enters its first season as a member of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, it’s perhaps even easier to see the transition before them.

A squad with one senior and just two juniors, Neuse Charter will enter its first season in the Carolina 1A Conference.

“This is our first year as a full-fledged member of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association so we know there’s going to be growing pains,” first year Neuse Charter coach Daniel Casey said. “Being in the Carolina 1A Conference, we know it’s not going to be easy but we’re continuing to grow and we’re going to get there.”

Sophomore Dominique Dakin paced Neuse Charter with 11 points while lone senior Sakoyia Heath pitched in with four points in the Cougars’ defeat.

The Cougars, in much the same way as the Panthers, hope to use an up-tempo style of play this year to their benefit.

Joining Heath in the back court are Haley Brownlee and Brianna Richardson who will help to push the pace while Dakin supplies the tenacity and aggressiveness Neuse Charter is looking to create in its offense.

Most importantly for Casey, however, are the signs that he’s already seen that indicate the Cougars are continuing to grow.

“What we’ve seen are that the numbers are up from last year and the effort has been there,” added Casey. “It’s just a matter of growing, becoming more talented and developing those skills.”