After seeing other squads knock on the door all year long, a pair of local sports teams finally broke down the doors to the state championship as the 2015-16 school year wound down.
It happened in an 11-day span in May, when the Mount Airy High School boys’ golf and track and field teams each won the NCHSAA 1A state championship. Neither team entered its state championship tournament expected to take the title, but both snatched the crown from the favorite by coming from behind at the end of the competition.
The Bears’ golf title came on May 10 in Southern Pines, at the end of a two-day tournament in which Mount Airy battled Community School of Davidson in a seesaw battle that wasn’t decided until the scorecards were added up at the end of the second day. Despite losing one of their five golfers to injury and trailing CSD by seven strokes after the first day, the Bears started off day two well and chopped the Spartans’ lead down to a single stroke after 27 holes. Just nine holes remained in the event, and after six of those were played, Davidson still held a one-stroke edge. But then Mount Airy played 16, 17 and 18 brilliantly, outshooting the Spartans by four strokes over those three holes and winning the title, 610-613.
The Granite Bears ended up winning the state championship in much the same way they had dethroned defending state and Northwest 1A Conference champ Bishop McGuinness in the NW1A finals two weeks earlier. In that race, the Villains actually took the lead on the course on the final day of the last conference meet, but Mount Airy rallied and won by two strokes after a season where the teams took more than 2,500 between them.
At least the golf team entered the championships having won its conference. Mount Airy’s boys’ track team couldn’t even make that claim. Walkertown won the regular-season title, and North Stokes was the three-time defending 1A state champion. Both schools, as well as Atkins, had strong contingents in the state finals, held May 20 at North Carolina A&T University. The four schools ultimately finished 1-2-3-4 in the final points tally, which wasn’t all that surprising. The order in which they finished was.
To beat the Wolfpack, Vikings and Camels, along with the other track and field powerhouses from around the state, the Bears would have to fight quantity with quality. Their standouts would have to finish at or near the top of the standings in every event that Mount Airy was represented in.
Amazingly, they did just that. Halfway through the meet, the Bears led both the boys’ and girls’ 1A championships. The girls were nearly out of events to improve their score and settled for fourth, but the boys fought on and led until near the end, when North Stokes scored 16 points in the pole vault and took the lead. It came down to the last event of the meet, the 4×400 relay, and whichever school finished ahead of the other would be state champion. With two turns to go on the anchor lap around the track, Mount Airy senior Cordell France made up 20 yards on the Vikings’ anchor man and finished two places in front. The Bears had their first state track and field title.
Mount Airy won six of the individual events, and double state champion Gabriel King (shot and discus) was the boys’ MVP. The Lady Bears’ Jo Snow was also a double champ, winning the 800 and anchoring the winning 4×800 relay team. The hero of the hour, France, earned a spot on Mars Hill University’s track team for 2017.
The events of those days netted nearly all of the hardware for local schools during the spring, but there were many impressive seasons in other sports nonetheless.
In tennis, both Mount Airy and Surry Central contended for their respective conference titles, not to mention local supremacy. The Bears pulled theirs out, tying Bishop McGuinness for the NW1A title and then reiterating their ascendancy by beating the Villains for both the individual singles and doubles conference titles. Other than Bishop, the only team to beat Mount Airy during the regular season was Central, who topped the Bears 5-4 on April 18, a season highlight for a senior-laden team that placed second to West Stokes in its league. As for the Granite Bears, they lost just one senior starter, and their 20-3 season was just the beginning of what should be a very bright future.
In girls’ soccer, Bishop McGuinness ran away with the NW1A title and Forbush did the same in the Western Piedmont 2A, but East Surry and Mount Airy battled for second and third in their league, and Surry Central was a solid third in theirs. All three teams made the playoffs, and East Surry set a program milestone when it defeated Highland Tech and Mountain Island Charter to reach the third round for the first time in school history.
Baseball also saw three local teams enter postseason play. North Surry and Surry Central were part of a four-team battle at the top of the WPAC that had every team enter the last week of the regular season with a chance at first place. Forbush ended up winning the title, but the Hounds and Eagles both made the playoffs. North Surry bade farewell to senior star Brady Watts, who signed with Division I VMI in November, in a second-round loss to Reidsville. Over in the NW1A, East Surry rode the arm of their own D-1 prospect Tyler Smith (ECU) into playoff contention. The Cardinals finished tied for second in the conference and earned a postseason trip of their own.
On the softball diamond, East Surry was by far the best of the local teams, and one of the better teams in the 1A ranks, posting a 22-7 overall record. The Lady Cardinals couldn’t ever get past league rival North Stokes, but did make it to the Elite Eight of the state playoffs, downing three opponents and then falling to eventual state runner-up North Stanly with the potential tying and winning runs on base in a 5-4 loss. The Lady Cardinals will bid farewell to pitching and hitting star Emily Cummings, who signed to play at Florida Southwestern next season, but were otherwise a young team that will have its sights set on adding to the ESHS softball tradition in 2017.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.