By Andrew Stark
It’s hard to believe the 2012-13 high school sports seasons have already come to an end for all Matthews-Mint Hill schools. While it’s tough to see them go, this season produced a number of outstanding feats that I’ll not soon forget.
This week, I’ve ranked the top 10 performances by area teams and athletes during the school year.
1. BUTLER FOOTBALL DELIVERS
Butler entered the season nationally ranked and closed it as ESPN’s No. 6 team in the country. While it’s an unbelievable accomplishment, it leaves one question: Does ESPN honestly believe five high school teams could beat these guys?
On paper, this team would make many college programs envious. They had 13 players who’ll be on college rosters next year, and some – Peter
Kalambayi (Stanford), Channing Stribling, (Michigan), Uriah LeMay (Georgia) and Riley Ferguson (Tennessee) – will play for traditional powerhouses.
With their collection of talent the Bulldogs were fixated on an undefeated season from the beginning and knew anything less than a state championship would be considered a failure. But it wouldn’t be an easy accomplishment, as several college-bound players missed time because of injuries or suspension, including Ferguson, LeMay, Malachi Hanes (Catawba), Kameron Billings (Limestone), Grant Polofsky (Davidson) and David Moore (Ball State).
But the Bulldogs never skipped a beat. Seniors such as quarterback Zach Gross, Kalambayi, Moore, Josh Glisson (Winston-Salem State) and Sean Wiggins (Ball State) all stepped in and helped fill the void, as did junior linebackers Isaac Stewart and Todjrei Graham, and sophomores Jalen Cousar and Anthony Ratliff.
Instead of letting adversity affect them, the Bulldogs got stronger. When it was time to prove it, against Fayetteville Jack Britt in the Class 4AA state title game, they were ready and sprinted to leads of 28-0 and 42-7 before writing their final chapter: a 56-28 end to a 15-0 undefeated season.
And seemingly everyone contributed: Wiggins (16 tackles), Kalambayi (12) Cousar and tackle Darren Dubose (eight apiece) and Moore (six) played smothering defense. Ferguson (five touchdowns, 300-plus yards), LeMay and Billings (100-plus receiving yards) and Glisson (192 total yards, three touchdowns) provided more than enough offense.
It was a dominant performance for the most dominating team to take a field this season and the perfect end the Bulldogs had envisioned.
2. INDY BASKETBALL’S MAGICAL RUN
The way the Independence boys basketball team came together was infectious. The chemistry off the court translated into the program’s best season in more than a decade, as the Patriots went 24-6, claimed a share of the regular-season league title, won their first conference tournament crown and advanced to the third round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Not bad for a team that had won two games a year ago with nearly the same roster.
These guys loved playing together, and it showed. Juniors Tayon Gleaves (13.3 points, 3.4 assists), Marcus Graves (12.4 points, 4.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds) and Deion Lane (11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds) formed the core of the best turnaround story of the season, but Jeffery Dennis, Ivan Blair, Workpeh Kofa and Herbert Bowen Jr. were all key contributors.
While their 2012-13 season was full of promise, the Patriots’ best basketball is on the horizon. I warned people this team would make some waves this year, and they did that. I’m predicting a lot more success from this group next year, too.
3. RAVENS FOOTBALL EMERGES
This was the season that officially put the Rocky River football team on the proverbial map. The Ravens had gone 3-18 in their previous two seasons but had a solid core of seniors ready to take the next step.
The Ravens went 7-5 and, for the first time, made the playoffs, won a road game, finished with a winning record in conference play (4-3) and produced their first college recruits in Sidney Lawson and Brandon Harris, who both signed with Winston-Salem State.
With quarterback Andre Rice (2,000 total yards, 23 touchdowns), Harris (51 receptions, 700-plus yards, 10 touchdowns), Lawson (38 tackles, five interceptions, five touchdowns) and linebacker Seth Johnson (101 tackles) leading the way, the Ravens were equal parts exciting and dangerous.
As good as this past season was, the Ravens have key pieces returning to build on their success.
4. LIONS MAKE BOYS TENNIS RUN
For the entire spring sports season, the Covenant Day boys tennis squad was the team in the Matthews-Mint Hill area.
The roster was loaded with talent, starting with Queens University of Charlotte commit and two-time all-state selection Will Roberson. But what made the Lions special was their team-first approach.
Coach George Wolbers said it was his favorite team he’d ever coached. On the court, the Lions were dominant, winning the first matches in school history against Charlotte Country Day and state champion Providence Day, completing a perfect regular season, earning the No. 1 seed in the 3A private-school playoffs and advancing to the semifinals.
Although they were bounced from the playoffs by Cary Academy, the 17-1 Lions were a team to remember. And with only Roberson and No. 2 player Matthew Fisher graduating, more success is on the way.
5. PATRIOT SOFTBALL SUPREMACY
It didn’t take long to realize Independence’s recent run of softball success wasn’t over. After starting the season 2-3, the Patriots caught fire and embarked on a 12-game win streak to claim their second consecutive conference title, en route to a 15-5 record.
Although it didn’t end as planned – with consecutive losses to Ardrey Kell and Southwest Guilford – there were plenty of bright spots for Patriot faithful.
Sophomore Lizzie Birch hit safely in all 20 games, carrying a nearly impossible .691 batting average while clubbing three home runs and 12 doubles. Seniors Morgan Benson (11-4 on mound, .481 batting average) and Jen Birch (.396, team-high 26 RBIs) joined juniors Logan Raker (.457) and Maddie Comer (.348) and sophomore Hailey Sebastian (.422) on the conference’s top squad.
6. HANES, SALISBURY FINISH STRONG
Independence shortstop Nick Salisbury and Butler pitcher/outfielder Malachi Hanes closed out their stellar baseball careers this spring, but each left his lasting mark on the Southwestern 4A conference.
Salisbury, a Liberty University (Va.) recruit and the 2012 Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Player of the Year, had quite an encore senior season, leading the Patriots in nearly every statistical category, including batting average (.343), hits (23), doubles (four), RBIs (11), runs (15), walks (15), on-base percentage (.458) and stolen bases (six).
Hanes, who’ll play baseball and football at Catawba College, topped the Bulldogs in batting average (.484), hits (31), RBIs (15), doubles (seven), triples (four), slugging percentage (.744), stolen bases (five) and went 2-3 on the mound with a 3.12 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 40 innings.
7. TRACK TRIO TRIUMPHS
Three area track and field underclassmen cemented themselves as the area’s next stars with their performances this season.
Rocky River sophomore Kaylan Love-Soles proved he’s a bona fide star in the making by finishing second in both the 200-meter (21.96 seconds) and 400 (49.89) at the Southwestern 4A conference meet. This season, he had personal bests of 21.84 and 48.56.
Butler junior Alexis Davis earned conference championships in the long jump and triple jump. She also won a regional title with a personal-best triple jump (37 feet, 7.5 inches) and was sixth at the state meet in both events.
Independence sophomore Caleb Walker emerged in the 110-meter hurdles, placing second at the West regional with a personal-best 14.72 seconds. He also was seventh in the state. Walker claimed the conference title in the 110 hurdles and was third in the 300 hurdles.
8. COVENANT BASEBALL GROWTH
Coach David Houseton has built the Covenant Day baseball program into an annual contender in the Metrolina Athletic Conference and a factor in the state playoffs. The Lions crossed the 20-win barrier in each of the last three seasons and won a playoff game in two of the past three years.
And they’re not showing signs of slowing down.
Juniors Spencer Hutchinson (.426 batting average, team-high 41 RBIs, 23 steals), Peter Englert (.396, 28 RBIs), Michael Henry (.314, 22 RBIs), Matthew Cotton (.287) and Luke Barclay (.235, 20 RBIs) all return. Also watch for freshmen Colby Bruce (4-1, 2.40 ERA) and Chris Cotton (2-0, 2.84 ERA), as well as eighth-grader Satchel Jerzembeck (.407, 16 RBIs).
9. DUO POWERS INDY WRESTLING
Independence wrestlers Brian Tiderman and Demetree Hardison kept the Patriots atop the Southwestern 4A conference by placing among the top 30 in wins in the state.
Hardison was 53-4 and won 29 matches by pin. The 285-pound senior recorded win streaks of 25 and 27 matches during the season.
Tiderman, who’s already the Patriots’ all-time leader in wins, went 55-9. The 185-pound junior had win streaks of 13 and 26 matches, and recorded 34 pins.
10. ROBINSON’S RUN TO GLORY
Independence football player Isaiah Robinson already has offers from Wake Forest, Louisville, East Carolina and Ohio University, but don’t be surprised if many more come calling.
After rushing for 746 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, the 5-foot-9, 224-pound bruiser burst onto the scene during his junior campaign in 2012. Robinson averaged more than seven yards per carry while gaining 1,549 yards with 16 touchdowns. He also showed his versatility by catching 19 passes for 264 yards and another touchdown.
Robinson will again be the featured back in first-year coach Joe Evans’ system and is poised to have a monster senior season that should have potential college suitors ready to join in on his recruiting trail.