A year after winning the first state championship in school history, the Northwood women’s basketball team is once again the team to beat in Chatham County.
The Chargers are coming off a historic season that saw them go 30-1 overall and win their last 21 games, including a 70-42 beating of Enka in the 3A State Championship game.
Now head coach Kerri Snipes is tasked with trying to help her team rehearse.
One thing Northwood will have to deal with is the loss of Olivia Porter, who led the team in points (16.4), rebounds (6.4), assists (3.8) and steals (4). ,3) in 2021-22. Porter is now at Michigan State University, and the Chargers will have to find a way to ease his absence on the field with them this winter.
Northwood still has plenty of talent on its roster, though. The Chargers have two players on their roster who are committed to collegiate play at Division I schools — seniors Gianna McManaman (New Mexico) and Te’Keyah Bland (Howard).
Bland is Northwood’s tallest player at 6-foot-1 and the team’s leading return scorer (8.8 points per game). She’ll be tasked with anchoring the Chargers’ roster as a low scorer and rim protector.
“(Te’Keyah) has certainly worked hard for the last three years,” Snipes told the N+R earlier this offseason. “She’s definitely gotten a lot stronger, especially last season, so that’s what we’ve continued to work on this offseason. We’re trying to make sure she can be physical and can compete.
Behind Northwood, the other five county teams will all have the potential to make the state playoffs, as four of them did in 2021-22. The teams with the highest expectations among this next tier of schools are Seaforth and Chatham Charter, which combined to go 38-17 on aggregate last season.
The Hawks went 19-8 in their first season as a program in 2021-22 and won the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference with a 12-0 league mark. Head coach Charles Byrd welcomes all of his players to last year’s team, including three players who averaged at least 10 points per game.
Seaforth’s leading scorer last season was sophomore Gabrielle Wright, who averaged 15.6 points and 10.0 rebounds as a freshman last winter. Sophomore Peyton Collins (12.0) and junior Hannah Ajayi (10.8) also averaged double digits.
Chatham Central and Jordan-Matthews also belong to the Mid-Carolina Conference. The Bears finished 14-14 overall last winter, but were the second-best team in the league standings at 9-2, with their only loss to Seaforth.
The Jets tied the Jordan-Matthews men’s team with a 5-17 overall record. JM will have their work cut out for them this season as the team fired their top two scorers from last year – Ellia Wright and Tatyn Siler.
Chatham Charter, meanwhile, was 19-9 overall last winter and 7-1 in the league. The Knights are led by senior Tamaya Walden — who averaged 22.0 points per game last season. Walden is the only active women’s basketball player in County with at least 1,000 career points (1,188).
Last season, the Knights won the Central Tar Heel Conference tournament title before losing to Clover Garden School, 53-47, in the second round of the 2A state playoffs. Chatham Charter has an overall record of 54-16 since the start of the 2019-20 season.
Chatham Charter’s main rival in its conference is Woods Charter, who just finished a 12-7 campaign in 2021-22. Wolves will be without their top scorer from last season, however, as junior Lexi Smollen (19.2 ppg) was moved to Chapel Hill High in the offseason.
Wolves’ top returning scorer this winter is junior Caroline Mitchell, who averaged 10.7 points per game last season. Mitchell scored at least 20 points three times last season, including a 20-point performance against Southside High in the first round of Playoff 1A.
Sportswriter Jeremy Vernon can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.