Historic achievements, new normals headline year in Chatham athletics

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/29/20

Months of athletic dead periods. Football in February. A gym full of masked volleyball players.

This was a year like no other for Chatham County, and sports — most notably at the preps level, …

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Historic achievements, new normals headline year in Chatham athletics

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Months of athletic dead periods. Football in February. A gym full of masked volleyball players.

This was a year like no other for Chatham County, and sports — most notably at the preps level, where Chatham has five high schools competing within the NCHSAA — were very much a part of the shift.

From historic achievements to new normals, here's the News + Record’s 2020 Sports Year in Review.

Impact of coronavirus

As you read this, volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving teams across the state are deep into regular-season competition. And men’s and women’s basketball teams tip off their season next Monday.

Considering where the NCHSAA was in March, that’s a major accomplishment.

After commissioner Que Tucker and her office made the tough call to cancel athletics for the 2019-20 season — that included all spring sports and eight basketball state championship games — they started a phased, months-long approach with the end goal of getting student-athletes safely back into action.

The NCHSAA laid the groundwork for socially distanced “skill sessions” through the summer and the fall, but it always deferred to individual schools and school districts when it came to actual implementation.

In Chatham, that painted a stark contrast between public and charter schools.

Chatham Charter and Woods Charter carried on with workouts almost immediately. Meanwhile, Northwood, Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central suspended workouts after two weeks in July and didn’t resume them until Oct. 7 after approval from the Chatham County Schools Board of Education.

Eventually, though, all five high schools ended up in the same place: starting official volleyball and cross country competitions the week of Nov. 16 with COVID-19 safety precautions — including a mask mandate for all indoor activities, temperature checks and capacity limits — in place.

Those adjustments will continue into 2021, as men’s and women’s basketball teams resume play Jan. 4 and football teams — high school sports’ undisputed money-makers — kick off in late February.

It wasn’t just high school sports, either. Central Carolina Community College cross country runners and local Siler City and Pittsboro youth football players saw their seasons canceled, while local staples such as the Chatham County Senior Games and the Reindeer Run had to pivot to virtual events.

Historic basketball season

Eight teams qualified for the playoffs. Four coaches were named the best in their conference. And two teams were a combined 10 points away from appearing in state championship games.

It’s safe to say 2019-20 was a watershed year for Chatham County basketball.

The Northwood men’s team, coached by Matt Brown and led by seniors Deuce Powell, Aaron Ross and Jalen McAfee-Marion, went 27-3, won their conference regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the 3A semifinals, where the Chargers lost to undefeated Westover, 54-49.

The Chatham Charter men’s team, coached by Jason Messier and led by seniors Jordan Hamilton, Connor Murphy and Cole Milholen, went 32-2, also won their conference regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the 1A semifinals, where they lost to Winston-Salem Prep, 65-60.

And those were just the headliners.

The Northwood women, led by Te’Keyah Bland, Rae McClarty and McKenna Snively, swept their conference regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the 3A round of 16. The Chatham Charter women, led by Morgan Lineberry, Tamaya Walden and Rebecca McGaughnea, went 27-4, won their conference regular-season title and advanced to the 1A round of 16.

Chatham Central got in on the fun, too, sending both its men’s and women’s teams to the 1A playoffs behind Michael Moore and Lucas Skertich and Mary Grace Murchison and Danielle Vaughn, respectively. The women’s team advanced to the round of 16; the men’s team advanced to the round of 32.

Chatham’s other two playoff squads — the Jordan-Matthews men and Woods Charter women — lost in the opening round of 64 but, when put in context, were still success stories.

The Jets entered their conference tournament 7-16 but ripped off three straight wins against higher seeds to seize the PAC 7 2A Conference’s automatic playoff qualifier spot. That run earned them HighSchoolOT’s statewide “Best Upset of the Year” award in late May.

As for the Wolves? They didn’t even field a women’s team the previous season.

Outstanding individuals

It wasn’t just basketball teams that contributed to a memorable year in Chatham athletics. Plenty of individuals made an impact, too. Here’s a sampling:

Jennah Fadely, a senior Jordan-Matthews swimmer, finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke at February’s 1A/2A state championships and later earned All American honors for her finish time.

Northwood’s Dream Walker and Chatham Central’s Hailey White became the first two Chatham athletes to compete in the NCHSAA Women’s Wrestling Invitational, held in Concord in February.

Northwood freshman Tyler Tracy and Chatham Charter junior Chandler Steele both earned silver medals in February’s individual state wrestling championships held in Greensboro.

Woods Charter athletic director Dena Floyd and Jordan-Matthews athlete Jayden Davis spoke openly and candidly about racism, being Black in America and using sports as a platform for change during a summer of protests against racial injustice and police brutality after the death of George Floyd.

Kristian Eanes, a former Northwood basketball player now starting at point guard for Queens University of Charlotte, spent her summer working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as a caregiver at two senior facilities near her home in Pittsboro.

Brendan Harrington, a former Northwood linebacker, had a team-high four interceptions and was an all-conference honorable mention for the Appalachian State football team, which went 9-3 in 2020.

Joe Glasson, an 81-year-old resident of Governors Club, continued his distinguished career in senior softball leagues when his Carolina Blazers won an 80-and-above national championship in October.

Jason Gibson, a 17-year-old Chatham County native, used his appearance in a national bass fishing championship in October to raise over $10,000 for ALS research. He did it in honor of his longtime friend Chris Smith, who was diagnosed with the disease last summer.

Northwood senior long snapper Jake Mann committed to Florida State as a preferred walk-on, while former Northwood wide receiver Chris Lawson Jr. (now playing at Hough) got scholarship offers from South Carolina, N.C. State and Pittsburgh after a standout freshman year with the Chargers.

Partially inspired by Forrest Gump, 23-year-old Pittsboro resident Jesse Greenlee spent his summer biking cross country from Charlotte to Portland, Oregon. It took him 73 days.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.


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