Croatan is going to have a pretty spectacular fall sports season.
OK, I realize I could be accused of being a little biased since I usually cover sports at the school, but that is not the case. I simply have evidence to support my claim.
First, Croatan is bringing back more returners at nearly every sport in comparison to the other county teams. Second, almost every team but one won their conference last fall. The only exception was the football team, but one could argue that finishing second in a conference to Southwest Onslow is as close to winning as can be expected.
At the heart of the projected success is a solid senior class at Croatan, spear-headed by a trio of four-year varsity volleyball players in Kelly Hagerty, Savannah McAloon and Natalie Show.
The Cougar spikers brought back four of six starters and have a roster of seven seniors. Among those is newcomer Ally Roth, a perennial all-conference athlete in cross country, girls basketball and girls soccer.
After watching the Cougar spikers decimate Swansboro 3-0 on Monday, and have fun doing it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish in the neighborhood of 21-3 with a third-round playoff appearance.
The Croatan boys soccer team finished in a three-way tie for first place last season, graduating over half its starters but bringing back a stout roster that includes 13 seniors.
The squad brought back three of its top five 2018 scorers in Travis Garner-McGraw (19 goals, four assists), Eli Simonette (five goals, four assist) and Jacob Boucher (five goals, 10 assists).
The Cougars tied a solid New Hanover team 2-2 on Tuesday after facing a 2-0 deficit shortly before halftime. The team is experienced and playing in a weaker conference, but the program’s nonconference schedule is always tough. I expect the Cougars to finish 20-3-2 with a third-round playoff appearance.
The Croatan football team lost its first four games last season before winning five of its last six to place second in the Coastal 8.
The team brought back quarterback Major Hawkins, returning starting offensive linemen Mitchell Steele, Cameron Boone and Matt Felipe, and a long list of returning defenders like Zach Hoy, Walker Gladwell, Colton Sullivan, Andrew Mendolia and Dustin Hayden.
All signs indicate Southwest Onslow will continue to be dominant this season, leaving second place as the likely destination for an achieving Croatan team.
My colleague at the News-Times J.J. Smith has the squad pegged for an 8-3 finish to the regular season. I’ll agree and give them an extra win in the playoffs, plus the program’s third-ever second-round berth for a 9-4 finish.
The Croatan girls tennis team only graduated two seniors from a squad that went 9-3 in 2018.
Add to that, the program was gifted transfer junior Maddie Tsirlis who has already risen to the No. 1 singles spot on the team.
The Cougars play 17 matches in the regular season, and I fully expect them to win all 17. The 2A state playoffs have never been kind to the Cougars who will likely see their season end in the second round at the latest.
The Croatan girls golf team had four golfers on the roster for last season’s conference championship.
The same quartet, led by top golfers Karson Cieslak and Caroline Harvey, is back this season, facing the same league competition with one season of experience under their belts. There is very, very little chance the Cougars don’t win a repeat title.
The Croatan boys cross country team lost its top senior runner to graduation in the spring, but four high-placing underclassmen from last season are back to guide the program to yet another conference championship.
With Elliot Kleckner, Colten Rodriguez, Cooper Kleckner and Thomas McCabe leading the way, the Cougars are a lock to win the Coastal 8 and challenge for an east regional title.
The only Croatan program that saw more players depart than return is the girls cross country team. Among graduation, players moving away and other choosing to play different fall sports, the Cougars lost their top 10 runners.
It would be a shock to see the team still win a conference championship, but Croatan also knows how to produce runners.
(Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)