Earlier in the school year, I shared in this column that I thought Croatan had a legitimate shot at fielding three state championship teams in volleyball, girls basketball and girls soccer.
The volleyball team was the first one up in the fall, finishing 21-3 overall and 14-0 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference. The Cougars finished the season ranked No. 16 in the 2A classification per MaxPreps.com, but fell in the third round to No. 2 Carrboro.
It’s basketball season now, and the Croatan girls are off to a hot start at 2-0. It’s too early in the schedule to draw further conclusions about the team, with one gigantic exception.
I think it’s very possible this Croatan girls team doesn’t lose a regular season game this winter.
The county hasn’t had an undefeated basketball team in the regular season since the East Carteret boys went 24-0 in 2013-2014.
Croatan has never had an undefeated team, although the girls program came pretty close last season, going 18-1.
Its lone regular season loss was 48-42 to Swansboro.
The boys program came closest in 2011-2012 with a 19-2 regular season record under Dexter Williams. The team’s regular season losses that year were 77-65 in double overtime to Topsail and 67-64 in overtime to Richlands.
There was no way this season’s Croatan girls team wasn’t going to have success. The roster is a culmination of seniors who have started on varsity for four years and juniors with two years of varsity experience.
The biggest challenge facing the Cougars in their quest for a long postseason run is the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference. The league looks to be a complete wash this winter aside from Croatan. Last year’s top placers have already gotten off to an extremely rough start.
After finishing second in the conference and graduating the crux of its roster, East Carteret opened its season with a 60-12 loss to West Carteret. Richlands finished third in the conference last year and opened with a 72-38 loss to Swansboro.
Add to that, the Cougars went 14-0 in the conference last season and put up a 12-2 league record in 2017-2018.
So, assuming Croatan takes care of business in the Coastal 8, that leaves the nonconference schedule to provide the strongest challenges to an undefeated record.
The Cougars opened their season against East Duplin on Nov. 21, winning 46-33 over a team that finished last season 26-2 overall and graduated only two of its top seven scorers.
The 61-52 win over Southside was less impressive, but the Seahawks weren’t terrible last year with an 8-13 record. They also didn’t graduate any starters and have a standout in freshman Ka’nynah O’Neal. The Cougars will play Southside a second time in Chocowinity on Wednesday.
That leaves just three other teams with a real shot at beating Croatan – West Carteret, Hoggard and Swansboro, two of which will face the Cougars twice.
The Cougars face West on Tuesday in what could be a much better game than anticipated in the preseason. The Patriots (2-2) have played four games, including a trouncing of East and a win over New Bern on Tuesday. They fell to Kinston by 10 and East Surry by 20, but both of those programs entered the season ranked in the top 25 of High SchoolOT’s girls basketball rankings. Kinston came in ranked No. 11 in the east and East Surry No. 14 in the west.
The Cougars play the Patriots twice, first at home on Tuesday and then in Morehead City on Friday, Dec. 20.
Hoggard didn’t make the HighSchoolOT’s rankings, but it did receive three votes for the top 25 list. The Vikings are already 2-0 this year with wins over Northside and Havelock, a team that finished last year 19-6. Hoggard went 20-8 last season and finished the year ranked No. 31 in 4A.
Croatan will travel to Hoggard on Friday, Dec. 6.
Swansboro, in my opinion, is the biggest wild card in the bunch. For whatever reason, the Pirates are sneaky good against the Cougars, often in several sports.
The Pirates went on to finish last season 9-12, but they did return two of their top four scorers and welcomed a transfer from Jacksonville in Grace McAllister, who averaged 3.6 points per game as a sophomore for the Cardinals but now averages a team-high 12.3 per game for the Pirates.
Swansboro has jumped out to a 3-0 start with jaw-dropping final scoring margins. In three games, the program has outscored its opponents 192-47, holding two of its three opponents to just four and five points, respectively.
The Cougars travel to Swansboro on Tuesday, Dec. 10, and then host the Pirates on Jan. 29, a game that will provide a much-needed challenge in a sea of non-challenging Coastal 8 contests.
(Send comments or questions to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)