It looks, on the surface, like the same-old same-old for girls’ soccer, softball and boys’ and girls’ tennis – the first wave of spring sports in the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s COVID-amended seasons.
That means teams like Panther Creek and Orange in softball; the Orange County trio of Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill and Carrboro in girls’ soccer; and Clayton in golf.
But at least one Triangle-area head coach thinks there could be surprises this spring.
Broughton girls’ softball coach Greg Messer says the impact of COVID-19 will be felt from time to time.
“You’re going to see some shocking upsets this season, with players missing games due to contact tracing or infection,” he says.
Messer says that with students struggling academically to deal with remote learning, perhaps the goals should be simpler.
One goal, he says, is to avoid a long term COVID-related shutdown. And, he adds, “If the girls learn the fundamentals of the game and eagerly look forward to playing next season, and most importantly, if they can maintain their GPA’s, we’re going to call this a successful season.”
So who is likely to fare best in this unusual season?
Here is an midseason Sweet 16 for the area’s girls’ soccer, softball and boys’ and girls’ golf teams. Their regular seasons finish at the end of April, with playoffs carrying into mid-May.
1. Michele Tarpey (Fuquay-Varina girls’ softball): A senior pitcher who is an N.C. State commit, Tarpey entered the season with a 27-4 career record. She is 5-1 this season.
2. Green Hope girls’ soccer: With a mix of youth and veteran players, the Falcons are off to a 5-1-1 start in the extraordinarily competitive Triangle 4A.
3. Clayton boys’ golf: With one of the top players in the area (see No. 5), the Rams, who finished second to Charlotte Catholic in 2019, are poised for another run at a 3A state title.
4. Orange girls’ softball: The Panthers are loaded. They’ve outscored their opponents 104-4 in a 6-0 start.
5. Tyler DeChellis (Clayton boys’ golf): He’s an East Carolina commit and ranked No. 1 in the Tarheel Youth Golf Association.
6. Isabelle (Izzy) Losavio (Apex Friendship girls’ soccer): She’s a senior midfielder with a slew of awards and a leader on a strong team.
7. Carrboro girls’ soccer: The 2019 2A state champions are ready to repeat.
8. Arial Pearce (North Johnston girls’ softball): A left-handed pitcher and a UNC Wilmington commit who is tough to hit.
9. Mary-Sears Brown (Heritage girls’ golf): A two-time state meet qualifier and an Appalachian State commit.
10. Heritage girls’ softball: The Huskies reached the state semifinals in 2019 and have the pieces for another long playoff run.
11. Franklin Academy girls’ soccer: The Patriots finished second in the 1A playoffs two years ago, and several key players are back.
12. Cardinal Gibbons girls softball: In their 7-0 start, the Crusaders have outscored opponents 78-13.
13. Kalyn Kyle (Clayton girls’ softball): She is a big part of a Clayton team that has very strong pitching.
14. Lily Rowe (Raleigh Charter girls’ golf): She finished fifth in the 1A-2A state tournament as a sophomore in 2019.
15. Kaylyn Seitz (Panther Creek girls’ soccer): She’s a freshman who scored four goals in her first five varsity matches.
16. Cardinal Gibbons boys golf: The Crusaders finished third in the 2019 4A state tournament and look strong again.
CAP 7 4A
Cardinal Gibbons is off to a 5-0 start under new coach Brian Morgan, who had extensive experience in the Maryland-DC area. Center back Tatum Kelly (a Naval Academy commit), forward Hannah Hartel (Marshall) and goalkeeper Molly Corgan (Coastal Carolina) lead a group of 10 seniors.
Leesville Road, Broughton and Enloe are at 2-2. Broughton has experience, led by seniors Annie Agar (seven goals, three assists in 2019) and Morgan Holt (10 goals, four assists) and junior Emery Manning.
Millbrook could contend, behind senior Kat Stiles (Lees-McRae commit) and junior Kendall Powell.
Northern Athletic 4A
Heritage is the favorite, with senior Makenzie Libscomb (eight goals, three assists in four matches) and sophomore Emily Ford (two goals) are leaders. Wake Forest is the top contender at 4-0-1. Junior Grace Gilmore has scored seven goals.
Rolesville will be strong, with senior Layla Powell, a veteran of club-level soccer, and sophomore Kylie Cozart (five goals, seven assists in five matches last season). Junior Hannah Arellano is a defensive leader, and new coach Kelsie Croal had success in the Charlotte area before taking the Rolesville job.
South Wake Athletic 4A
Coaches think Apex Friendship and Holly Springs are the favorites, but this conference is loaded. Five teams remain in contention for the championship.
Holly Springs has a quartet of college-bound seniors in center-back Kylie Morris (Wofford), midfielders Olivia Womack (Mount Olive) and Kassie Jesrani (UNC Pembroke) and goalkeeper Tori Long (Salem). Izzy Losavio, an all-region player as a sophomore, and senior defender Katherine Gallagher lead Apex Friendship, which has started 6-1.
Senior goalkeeper Sara Curtis was five-for-five with shutouts last season for Middle Creek. Seniors Campbell Kerrs and Logan Styers and sophomore scoring threat Camryn Hardee should keep Apex in contention. South Garner is looking for improvement behind third-year starter Melanny Meja, a senior defensive specialist.
This conference has several state championship contenders.
In addition to Kaylyn Seitz, Panther Creek also has seniors Julia Patterson and Tea Covelli, each with four goals in the Catamounts 5-2 start. Green Hope is a contender, behind seniors Montana Merkle, Jenna Eller (five goals, five assists so far) and Addie Cooper (six goals).
But the surprise might be Athens Drive, which is 7-0-1 with a young squad. Sophomore Francesca Brady (nine goals) and junior Laura Westerbeek (eight) have gotten off to blazing starts. Senior captain Tianna Hill (Mount Olive commit) has 10 goals and three assists for 5-2 Jordan. And Riverside is led by Stephanie Barbosa, a junior who led the team in scoring as a freshman; and freshmen Riley O’Conner and Jackie Wenczik, plus sophomore defensive ace Emeline Van Deman.
Chapel Hill started 8-0, outscoring opponents 54-4. The Tigers already own a 5-2 overtime victory over their chief conference rival, defending state champ East Chapel Hill. The Wildcats are 6-1, led by Stricklon Magee (four goals, 10 assists), Mia Bergin (five goals), Sara Oren (four) and Eva Brookhart (four). Those two teams should dominate the Big 8 3A.
In the Greater Neuse 3A, Clayton, which lost to East Chapel Hill in the 2019 semifinals, is led by senior defender Sydney Eure and juniors Mia Scherber (eight goals so far), Maggie Gaskins (forward) and Sarah Fako (midfielder). Cleveland, off to a 5-0-1 start, has an outstanding freshman goalkeeper, Piper Hill (three shutouts so far).
Smithfield-Selma is led by sophomore midfielder Macy Allen, who is getting college attention. West Johnston features senior goalkeeper Cailey Bruni and sophomore Kayly Pastrana and junior Michaela Evans in midfield.
Carrboro won the state title in 2019, beating Lake Norman Charter in penalty kicks. The Jaguars are off to a 3-2 start, outscoring foes 27-8.
Franklin Academy, the 2019 state runner-up in 1A, won its opener 14-0. Senior Grayson Kelly (three goals, three assists in that match) and junior goalkeeper Abigail Bruce provide the foundation for the Patriots in the North Central 1A.
Raleigh Charter, which lost to Franklin Academy in the 2019 semifinals, is the Central Tar Heel 1A favorite. Sophomore Grayson Hill and junior Sophie Embry each scored four goals in the first two matches.
CAP 7 4A
Cardinal Gibbons is off to a 7-0 start, with junior pitcher Mia Aiello notching 58 strikeouts in 28 innings and hitting .571. Rival coaches expect Enloe (3-3 start) to contend eventually, behind junior Emma McQueen (.500 batting average, 15 RBI in six games) and senior Sania Butler (.467).
Millbrook is 5-1 and in second place, with junior Addison Belcher (.696) and sophomore Lindsey Drew (.636) off to scorching starts. Sanderson is young, but sophomores Marlee Darlington (excellent fielder) and Caroline Levinson (three homers in her last three games) and freshman pitcher Lily Thorpe are excellent building blocks
Broughton is building, with only two seniors and a junior on the roster.
Northern Athletic 4A
Heritage, which reached the playoff semifinals in 2019, is the favorite. Senior outfielder Casey Watkins is an outstanding hitter. Wake Forest is led by senior Alyssa Henault (Campbell commit), who is hitting .667; and sophomore Olivia Williams, batting .571.
Rolesville could contend, behind senior Lilly Dudley (a defensive stalwart), junior Nadia Sykes (hitting .429) and freshman Morgan Warren. Wakefield is young, with freshman pitcher Dayna Bland and sophomore first baseman Kiersten Cox leading the way.
South Wake Athletic 4A
Fuquay-Varina is a state title contender behind the pitching of Michele Tarpey. But Holly Springs already owns a 6-0 victory over the Bengals, behind senior pitcher Kayla Dunn (Georgetown commit).
Apex Friendship will be strong, with five four-year starters. Leading the way is pitcher Abby DaVia (UNC Wilmington commit), freshman infielder-catcher Avery Kiger, sophomore shortstop Kaleigh Ayscue and junior catcher Evalie Quinena. Apex is under new head coach Adam Renzi, a veteran of the Elite softball program. Sophomore pitcher Maddie Degnan and junior outfielder Abbie Gold lead the way.
Panther Creek is the team to beat, behind senior pitcher Samantha Karl, who led the conference in strikeouts in 2019; and third baseman Rheanne Burden (Meredith commit), batting .500 with six doubles. Green Hope and Cary, behind juniors Rachel Oates, Rachel Smith and Ashley Emory, also should contend.
Jordan, a team which often lost lopsided decisions in the past, is much-improved over coach Kristen Gillespie. Sophomore Kaycee Alexander is batting .364 with five doubles and seven RBI in the Falcons’ first six games.
Greater Neuse 3A
Pitching is the name of the game for Clayton and Cleveland. Junior Kalyn Kyle has 63 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched for Clayton. Emily Rose (UNC Pembroke commit) and Delaney Eaves (Coker) are each hitting over .300. Cleveland has a pair of strong pitchers, in senior Ashlyn Faulkner and junior Zoey Jones.
Smithfield-Selma features senior pitcher Mataya Grimes, who is also a strong hitter. West Johnston hopes to contend with senior first baseman Lexi lama; sophomore outfielder Olivia Walker; and freshman infielder Madelyn Synoracki.
Big 8 3A
It’s an Orange world in area 3A softball this spring. The Panthers outscored foes 104-4 in a 6-0 start. Leaders are freshman pitcher-infielder Caden Robinson (batting .727) and junior pitcher-first baseman Gracie Walker (.750).
Chapel Hill is a team of the future, but the Tigers have a pair of good hitters in seniors Annie Smith and Wendy Elred. Sophomore pitcher Amaya Hawkins also can hit for power.
North Johnston is a 19-time conference champion, and No. 20 could be coming this season. Arial Pearce (UNC Wilmington commit), a senior pitcher, leads the way. Senior infielders Taylor Joines, Gabby Hales and Emma Scott are strong hitters.
Falls Lake Academy is off to a 6-2 start, behind sophomores Ashbee Standridge (who hit .500 as a freshman in the abbreviated 2020 season), Kennedy Teasley and Madison Primm (48 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched last spring).
East Wake Academy hopes to contend in the North Central Athletic 1A behind seniors Avery Privette, Lexi Brantley, Emily Hinnant and Elisabeth Hinnant.
Cardinal Gibbons finished third behind Myers Park and New Bern in the 2019 state tournament, behind Ryan Macri. Green Hope is a state contender, with sophomore Quin Polin and junior James Rico. Heritage’s Ryder Massey has dropped several strokes off his scores, and Trevor Gregory has posted several low scores. Freshman Nathanael Lassiter is a budding standout.
Corinth Holders (Josiah Linton, Colton Narron), Broughton (Jennings Glenn) and Apex (Nick Goellner and William Marriott) also should be strong.
In 3A, Clayton is a state title contender. Tyler DeChellis (East Carolina commit), David Spradlin (Morehead State) and Foster Evans (a two-time state doubles tennis champ) lead the way.
In the 1A-2A ranks, Carrboro is a state contender behind seniors Michael Lafata, Jack Winfield (the team’s top player in 2019) and Jackson Lea.
Heritage will be led by senior Mary-Sears Brown, who has a 39.0 stroke average, and sophomore Heather Appelson (41.0). Green Hope is a state contender, behind Lynn Lee, Sidney Renville and Tyler Spriggs. Apex pins its hopes on senior Abby Loding (Barton commit), a two-time state tournament qualifier.
Sadie Miller leads Corinth Holders, and Leesville Road features seniors Sidney Perkinson and Reagan O’Brien and junior Brianna Sroka.
In 3A, watch for Clayton and East Chapel Hill. Clayton has all-conference prospects in Alex Jones, Luciana Credler, Maggie Gaskins and Mallory Kinyo. East Chapel Hill senior Nayoung Kim, was a regional qualifier in the 2019 season, and junior Cameron Roberts shot a career-best 37 in her first match.
In 1A-2A, Carrboro features two-time state tournament qualifier Sophia Murphy and Sash Berry, who reached the state meet in 2019. Raleigh Charter should contender behind juniors Lily Rowe and Julia Greene, each a two-time state tournament qualifier.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle