Oh, what a year 2021 was for area sports
While 2020 justifiably was the wildest year on The Wilson Times readership area’s sports scene proba...
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While 2020 justifiably was the wildest year on The Wilson Times readership area’s sports scene probably ever, when 2021 arrived it had one thing to say: “Hold my beer.”
There were more big events and bizarre happenings packed into a 12-month bag that were alternately thrilling and exhausting,dispiriting and uplifting, confusing and scintillating. Oh, 2021 just seemed to have it all, and not always in a good way, but in a completely memorable way that made us nearly forget 2020.
If the previous year was one of quarantine and shutdowns, 2021 was the opposite. All the sports that were sidelined or limited in 2020, returned in full force in 2021 — sometimes all at the same time. The North Carolina Christian School Association and North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association started their athletic calendars as usual but the North Carolina High School Athletic Association schedule was twisted and turned, with some sports remaining more or less in season, while others were scattered to an alien time frame. The NCHSAA didn’t begin its year until November with volleyball and cross-country. Those sports were still going on when basketball started in January, but it really got crazy in February when boys soccer and football started up. Wrestling and girls tennis, usually played in the winter and fall, were part of the last group of sports that didn’t wrap up until the end of June, marking the latest end of the high school sports year ever.
A month later, Wilson County Schools student-athletes were back at it for the start of fall sports and a completely new NCHSAA alignment. Fike and Hunt left the 3-A Big East Conference for four years in the 3-A Quad County Conference against Johnston, Wayne and Wake county schools. This set-up marked the first time ever that Wilson and Nash schools weren’t in the same conference. Beddingfield left the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference for the 2-A Neuse 6 Conference, also Johnston and Wayne schools.
Wilson Prep remained in the 1-A Tar-Roanoke Athletic Conference after two earlier proposals bounced the second-year NCHSAA member school into different conferences.
MIDDLE SCHOOLS RETURN
When the 2021-22 athletic year began in August, it included middle schools for the first time since the COVID-induced shutdown in March 2020. All WCS middle school sports were shut down for the 2020-21 school year but returned in August with football, boys soccer, volleyball and cheerleading.
While the strange scheduling created a surreal aura around many sports, the overriding common theme for all of them was a drop in participation. Whether it was from COVID-19 directly or some of its offshoots such as academic casualties or financial burdens, more students stayed away from athletics in 2021 than in any recent year.
This was especially true at Beddingfield, which had been dealing with declining enrollment and participation in athletics for several years. The pandemic wiped out nearly all junior varsity teams at Beddingfield and several varsity sports in the compressed winter/spring. By fall, they had all come back, but some were still shaky.
The football team, under first-year head coach Ben Ellis, started and finished with less than 30 players while boys soccer made a comeback in the fall under Ed Hunter, another first-year head coach, after not playing in the spring.
EAGLES GET WINGS
While Beddingfield struggled to stay afloat at times, some former Bruins helped launch Sallie B. Howard School’s first varsity teams. SBH high school principal Glenn Reaves, the former Beddingfield principal, brought former girls basketball coach Debra Pegram to coach the Eagles while former Bruins standouts Vielka Givens and Roland Loftin led the volleyball and cross-country teams, respectively, last fall.
CYCLONES GO INDY
Community Christian opted for a different path in 2021 after holding membership in the NCISAA for as long as the Cyclones had an athletics program. But when the 2021-22 year began, CCS was out of the NCISAA and competing as an independent institution with an eye toward joining an new association, the North Carolina Christian Athletic Association, starting with the 2022-23 school year.
BARTON BOLD PAYS OFF
The high school sports scene was hectic but nothing like that of Barton College, which didn’t start its athletic year until January. At one point in the winter, all of Barton’s 21 intercollegiate athletic teams were in season, including football, as the college fielded a team for the first time since 1950. The Bulldogs only played four official games and what was to become Truist Stadium was still unfinished on one side, but the short spring season — punctuated with an exhibition win over Louisburg — set the stage for the fall.
Head coach Chip Hester’s Bulldogs got their first NCAA win in week 2 and finished a remarkable 6-5 in their first full season and with a roster full of first- and second-year players. Barton’s highlight was a 26-20 overtime takedown of then nationally No. 8-ranked and unbeaten Wingate on a memorable Saturday night under the lights of Truist Stadium.
Redshirt freshman running back Jordan Terrell was the NCAA Division II rushing leader (yards and yards per game) for much of the season and finished second in the nation with 1,843 yards. Barton ranked 10th in Div. II in rushing offense with 229.5 yards per game.
There were championships galore for area teams in 2021 as eight teams and one individual won state association titles. Leading the way was Wilson Christian, which won more North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A titles than it didn’t. Brian Trull’s Lady Chargers won their second straight girls basketball crown, the school’s sixth overall, in February. In the spring championships held at WCA, the Chargers won girls soccer and baseball and was the runner-up in softball. That gave Wilson Christian five NCCSA titles for the 2020-21 school year. The Chargers are well on their way to matching that this year with NCSSA 2-A championships in boys soccer, boys cross-country and volleyball this fall.
KNIGHTS BACK ON TOP
Greenfield has won its share of North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association girls soccer championships but none since 2012 until last May.
The Knights, powered by freshman Serenity McNair and sophomore Kat Stanley, thumped Christ Covenant 10-3 to win the eighth girls soccer state 1-A title in school history. However, Greenfield nearly didn’t make it to the final after ceding three goals to Southside Christian in the semifinals four days earlier. But McNair scored three straight goals to tie the score and Stanley nailed a penalty kick with 48 seconds left to give Greenfield a thrilling escape.
Of all the championship runs, none were as remarkable and improbable as that of Wilson Prep to the state 1-A title in just the second year the school was an NCHSAA member and the fourth year it had fielded varsity teams in any sport. Those facts seem inconsequential to the bizarre path the Tigers of head coach Anthony Atkinson Jr. took to the top.
With the pandemic causing chaos with the basketball season, the Tigers had managed to play just two games by the end of January — both were losses to Greenfield. It would be nearly three weeks and two COVID quarantines later before WPA hit the court again. The Tigers topped North Edgecombe in games in Wilson and Leggett for what served as the 1-A Tar-Roanoke Athletic Conference championship since those were the only two schools in the 10-team league fielding teams amid the pandemic.
From there, the Tigers used a withering defense to peel off six straight wins and claim the state championship. Atkinson, the star of Barton College’s amazing run to the 2007 NCAA Division II championship, had done it again and could have more nets to cut down in the future.
DEMONS MAKE HISTORY
Fike High added girls golf to its list of state-championship sports when the trio of Bree Council, Avery Briley and Morgan Harold claimed the NCHSAA 3-A title in October at Foxfire Village Resort and Golf Club.
The Demons trio had to weather a roller-coaster final round and a late challenge by Union Pines. Council, who won the 3-A East Regional as a freshman in the spring and finished second in the fall, led Fike at the state tournament.
Head coach Glenn Jones will have all three players back, along with Rachel Thomason, giving Fike a shot at back-to-back titles.
BULLOCK’S BIG YEAR
The girls golf team wasn’t the only state champion at Fike in 2021. Senior Jayleen Bullock became the third straight and third overall wrestling state champion when he finished the 2020-21 school year by winning the NCHSAA 3-A 195-pound title.
Bullock, who joined former teammate and two-time state champion Aaron Bancroft, finished 32-0. A standout football player as well, Bullock was saluted as the Tom Ham Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times.
Twin sisters Caroline and Kathryn Adkins made a splash on the NCHSAA girls tennis scene by winning the 3-A East Regional as freshmen in June and then following that up with another regional crown in October. Both times the sisters, who won the 3-A Big East Conference title in the spring and the 3-A Quad County Conference championship in the fall, reached the NCHSAA 3-A semifinals.
HUNT, FIKE FOOTBALL BACK
Juan Jackson, a 1984 Hunt High graduate and one of the Warriors’ first great football stars, returned to his alma mater as the head coach in the fall of 2020, but had to wait until the spring of 2021 because of the pandemic. The Warriors did OK in Jackson’s first season at the helm, going 4-3 in the shortened season, but they really took off in the fall. Hunt was picked to win the 3-A Quad County Conference and did so in impressive fashion. The Warriors posted five shutouts in winning their first six conference games en route to their first league title since 2013, which was the last of their four straight trips to the NCHSAA 3-A East final.
While Hunt’s football resurgence was notable, Fike wasn’t far behind. The Golden Demons finished second in the Quad County but their 21-14 win over Hunt in the final regular-season game gave Fike the Wilson County Championship.
WYSA KICKS IT UP A NOTCH
The Wilson Youth Soccer Association won not one, but two state championships to cap banner season for the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association member club.
The WYSA U16 Girls claimed the State Cup title in their age group after winning the U.S. Youth Soccer’s National League Piedmont Conference earlier this fall. The State Cup win puts WYSA into the Region III championships next summer in Tennessee, with a chance to move to the national championships.
Another WYSA team, the U19 Girls, captured the Kepner Cup in their age group, to qualify for the President’s Cup Southern Regionals in Dallas in June.
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