Even before last week’s ice storm, the North Johnston boys’ and girls’ basketball teams found it tough sledding in the Eastern Plains 2A Conference over the recent months.
The boys earned their only league victory of the year on Feb. 10 at home against Southwest Edgecombe. The North girls claimed their conference win on Feb. 13.
Tangie Williams led North Johnston with 12 points and seven rebounds. Fellow seniors Kaylynn Batten and Samantha Richardson also played their last-ever home game.
Two years removed from a 20-win season and an appearance in the second round of the state playoffs, the Panthers have to contend with three teams (Beddingfield, Farmville Central and Southwest Edgecombe) who have won state titles in the past decade.
In the standings for both the boys and the girls, Farmville Central, North Pitt and Wilson Beddingield all find themselves in the top half of the league.
The athleticism and the speed those three programs alone possess have been tough for the Panthers to handle.
“In this conference…there’s not a lot of room for error for us,” said North girls coach Jay Poole. “It’s very athletic, very fast and very quick. When they get the rebound, they’re gone. We practice transition defense a lot but it’s hard to simulate the speed that we face.”
Derrick Johnson, coach for the boys’ team, also sees the athleticism and speed of the other conference members as being an obstacle for the Panthers to have to overcome. The depth that most every other team in the conference has makes that task ever the more difficult.
“It’s just real athletic,” Johnson said. “There’s really not a whole lot of size in the conference but teams like North Pitt and Farmville (Central) are athletic and deep.
“They run guys in ten-deep and they’re not losing much.”
Facing waves of fresh players has demanded precision from the Panthers on both ends of the floor and until their victory over Southwest Edgecombe Tuesday on senior night, North Johnston hasn’t been able to be perfect enough for long enough to make a move up the standings.
Farmville Central tops the league standings having won 10 games in a row. North Pitt is pressing at their heels with both teams on the cusp of securing 20-win seasons.
The North Johnston girls’ team entered play in the Eastern Plains with a winning 7-5 non-conference record, a mark that included a one-point defeat to rival South Johnston. The Panthers were not able to find their winning touch until what became their season finale, twice coming close in a two-point defeat against Washington and a one-point loss earlier to Southwest Edgecombe.
Poole hopes his young team that includes five freshmen and three sophomores will be able to learn from their first campaign in the Eastern Plains and come back stronger for it, both mentally and physically.
“We’ve got to get stronger and get in the weight room,” Poole said. “In the post, I think sometimes we get shoved around and even the guards in this conference are strong on the ball. You hope with the younger group that they can continue to grow and get better.
“We see what this conference is like. Hopefully, we can get (to that level) with experience.”