There were no team state championships won by any local schools during the winter sports season, but there was plenty of excitement nevertheless.
While the existence of open enrollment 1A schools stole some of the thunder from the outstanding seasons enjoyed by the Mount Airy boys’ and girls’ basketball teams and the East Surry girls’ swimming team, it could do nothing about the dominance of Surry Central’s Daniel Alvarez-Orlachia and Mount Airy’s Jacob Hogue and Cameron Pack, each of whom captured individual state championships during winter sports season.
Team conference championships were won by both North Surry basketball teams, as well as the Greyhounds’ wrestling squad. Mount Airy took top honors in the Northwest 1A wrestling race and shared them in boys’ basketball, and East Surry’s girls held off Bishop McGuinness in the final event of the Northwest swimming championships to claim that title. The Lady Cardinals then did one better by finishing as the highest-scoring traditional 1A school in the state swimming championships two weeks later.
Some of the boys’ sports got a late start, as three of the four local high schools qualified for the state football playoffs, making important players unavailable for basketball and wrestling season until their gridiron runs ended. One of them, Pack, stayed with the Bears through the end of their playoff run, then joined the wrestling team and won his second straight state title on the mat, and then returned to football by committing to play for Appalachian State in the fall.
Both Pack’s Bears and their rivals from North Surry had some concerns about youth on their respective wrestling teams, but answered the bell quickly and went on to have outstanding seasons. There were no such questions about the basketball teams at those schools, however. They were expected to be outstanding, and they were.
The Mount Airy girls won their first eight games of the season before suffering their first loss, at the hands of the Lady Greyhounds, who were avenging a loss they’d sustained to the Lady Bears a week after Thanksgiving. Led by do-everything senior Ayano Shelton and jet-quick point guard Jo Snow, Mount Airy ended up with a 21-8 season that was far more impressive than even that fine record indicates — every one of the team’s losses was either to a powerhouse playing at a higher classification or a non-traditional power, including four setbacks to eventual 1A state champ Winston-Salem Prep. The Lady Bears may well have been the best 1A traditional school in the state, and at the end of the season, Shelton signed with North Greenville University.
The boys were just as impressive, going 25-4 and attaining a No. 1 ranking in every major 1A poll at some point during the season. The Bears actually beat eventual state champ Winston-Salem Prep in one of their three meetings with the Phoenix, which gave them a conference co-championship, and swept the season series from arch-rival and Western Piedmont 2A champ North Surry. When their season ended, star big man Clay Mounce inked a scholarship to play for Division I Furman University.
Fans of North Surry found plenty to cheer about of their own. The Greyhound boys finished 21-7 and won the WPAC outright with a 9-1 mark. Late in the regular season, West Stokes tried to make the race interesting by upsetting the Hounds in the Ron King Gym, but North Surry responded to the challenge by winning their last two regular-season games to secure the title, then avenged the loss to the Wildcats with a 19-point rout in the conference tournament final. The Lady Hounds went through the conference schedule with a perfect 10-0 slate, although not without facing stern challenges from runner-up Forbush and third-place Surry Central in every meeting with those two schools.
Both North Surry teams went out in the third round of the state playoffs, but both also return most of their key players for 2016-17 and should be even stronger this coming winter.
Over at Surry Central, Alvarez-Orlachia won the indoor track state title at 1000 meters, a sign of things to come for the Golden Eagles’ junior standout. On the hardwood, the school’s basketball teams were both in rebuilding mode, although the girls were surprisingly competitive throughout the season and finished outright third in the WPAC. The highlight of the boys’ season came on Senior Night, when the fans bid farewell to the senior players and to head coach Ken Eiswald, who announced he would step down at the end of the season. Overcome by the emotion, Central got off to a terrible start and trailed Forbush by as many as 26 points in the second quarter — but refused to quit. The Ealges battled back to take the lead with less than three minutes to play, then pulled out the win, 69-66.
The first championship moments of the winter season came on Feb. 13 at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, where Alvarez-Orlachia won the 1,000-meter 1A/2A indoor title and the Mount Airy 1600-meter relay team of Madeline Mayfield, Jo Snow, Jessica Bevard and Shalin Revels did likewise in their event, on the same Saturday that East Surry’s swimmers were lighting up the leaderboard a few hundred miles away in Cary.
A week later, it was the turn of Pack and Hogue, who arrived at the Greensboro Coliseum to make their defenses of their 2015 state championships. They promptly became the first two-time individual state wrestling champs in the long history of MAHS. Hogue took the title at 120 pounds against Alleghany’s Jake Blevins, while Pack had to avenge a loss to Jacob Matheson of Hayesville at 182 pounds to get his. Matheson had beaten Pack in the regionals, but beat Matheson for the state title with two third-period points to win 3-2.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.