Whatever pressure Kestrel Heights boys basketball teams feels from their high school facing closure following a state advisory board investigation, it’s not impacting their play on the court.
Not even the possibility of an unbeaten season has distracted them from their primary focus of winning the North Central Athletic 1A Conference title.
“We’re just trying to win a league title,” said senior David Mangum. “The league title is more important than the record. We haven’t won a league title and this is our (the seniors) last year. We don’t take any game for granted.”
That was evident when the Hawks routed Raleigh Charter 69-34 in a conference game Tuesday night at Moore Square Middle School’s gym.
The Kestrel Heights boys (20-0, 14-0) salvaged a split for the Durham school after the Raleigh Charter girls (14-4, 12-2) won the first game of the girls-boys double-header. The Phoenix’s 54-29 win set a school record for the girls program.
“We’re a young team,” said assistant head coach Kayla Blount. “We’ve been building on the skills we have and challenging the girls to improve other parts of their game.”
Kestrel Heights’ school spirit also was evident on the road. Even though the Hawks girls lost a one-sided game, they lined up with the cheerleaders to form a tunnel as the boys bolted out of their locker room door to take the court.
Kestrel Heights has played in the shadow of Voyager Academy the last two years as the Jay Huff, now a freshman at Virginia, led the Vikings to back-to-back 16-0 North Central Athletic 1A titles. Kestrel Heights leads Voyager by one game they meet for the second time on Feb. 7.
“We’ve been together for three, four years,” said Hawks senior point guard Javier Rogers. “We’ve have good team chemistry before the season started.”
Just two-and-a-half weeks ago Raleigh Charter traveled to Kestrel Heights and nearly pulled off an upset before falling, 54-49. But Kestrel Heights stepped up the defense, forced turnovers and buried shots from three-point range.
The Hawks led 15-8 after the first quarter and continued to pull away, even once the bench was emptied in the final two minutes. Kestrel Heights’ backup players outscored Raleigh Charter 8-0.
Rogers led the Hawks with 18 points, Mangum added 15 and sophomore Marcotis Hall 14.
Mangum and Rogers also run the team without letting slipups in the team’s play distract them. The second half ended with Mangum running free on a two-on-one fastbreak as the final seconds ticked off the clock, but his teammate kept the ball and forced a layup. No matter, Mangum tipped in the miss at the buzzer for a 29-15 halftime lead.
The third quarter opened with Mangum taking a pass on the corner of the free throw line. He turned as if to shoot until he flipped a no-look backwards pass to Roger, who buried a three-point field goal. It was the first of three he hit in the period.
On the transition down court, a Kestrel Heights player deflected a Raleigh Charter pass inside. Mangum leaped beyond the base line to save the ball and flipped it over his head beyond half court, where Evan Mills scooped up the ball for a fast break layup and that bumped the lead to 34-15 less than a minute into the second half.
“He’s a great player,” Rogers said of Mangum. “He can score or he can kick it back out. We play as a team.”
Raleigh Charter dropped to 11-7 and 9-5 with the loss. Senior Benjamin Stroud scored nine points and sophomore Jacob Schuster eight.
Raleigh Charter sophomore guard Camryn McClure didn’t know The Phoenix’s girls basketball history was short and undistinguished when she arrived on campus as a freshman a year ago. Her concern was attending a small-school environment.
“I went to a small school in middle school,” she said. “At a small school the classes are smaller and the teachers have more time for you.”
Raleigh Charter was founded in 1999, but it was a couple more years before the girls basketball program began play.
But this year’s young team is the building block to future success with McClure one of four sophomores along with four freshmen playing varsity (there is no JV program yet).
Raleigh Charter has four more regular-season games remaining to build on its school record of 14 wins.
“Our offense is working well, but we need to keep improving on defense,” McClure said. “Our rebounding stats are up, too.”
McClure led balanced scoring as senior Christina Whetzel added 11 points and sophomore Kana Parker 10.
The Phoenix is tied for second with River Mill Academy (15-9, 12-2) and trail league-leader Roxboro Community (18-3, 13-0) by two games. Raleigh Charter lost the first meeting to Roxboro Community 53-21, but the teams meet again on Feb. 7 at Roxboro Community.
Kestrel Heights (5-11, 5-7) was led by 16 points from senior Zyonna Spaulding and 10 from senior Monique Anthony.