The 3A Coastal Conference is not the toughest football conference in the state, nor is it the toughest soccer or basketball league in the state.
But with all three sports factored in, I’d wager the Coastal is king. Every season there is at least one or two conference teams ranked in the top 10 of the classification by MaxPreps.com. The 3A is already a tough row to hoe in high school athletics, but being a member of the extremely top-heavy Coastal in those three sports is particularly brutal.
Take a look at the football side of the conference this fall. Perennial powerhouse Havelock (5-1) is ranked No. 9 in the classification according to Max Preps. Jacksonville (4-2) is ranked No. 48, but it was as high as No. 6 coming into the season. The Cardinals and the Rams played for the eastern regional title last season, with Jacksonville winning and eventually falling to Charlotte Catholic in the state final.
There is also No. 44 Northside-Jacksonville (3-4), which just defeated Jacksonville 40-14 last week. Max Preps also ranks the Monarchs’ strength of schedule a hefty 11.5. Only three other 3A teams have a higher strength, and one is Havelock (13.5). All three teams – Havelock, Jacksonville and Northside – have competed for a state championship in the last two years.
West Carteret won the Coastal in boys basketball for the first time in 33 years last winter, but if the Coastal is anything like it usually is this year, a repeat performance won’t come easy. Admittedly, last year was a low year for the Coastal in comparison to other recent seasons. The top-ranked teams in the classification from the conference were West (No. 43), White Oak (No. 45) and Northside (No. 54).
The year before, however, Northside was the No. 5-ranked team and competing in the state championship game. Perennially talent-rich Havelock and Jacksonville are also usually within striking distance of a top-ranked team. In the 2015-2016 season, Havelock was ranked No. 7 and Jacksonville, No. 16.
The Coastal’s girls basketball talent is equally stifling, with Jacksonville and Havelock often battling for the No. 1 seed in the eastern region. Last year, the Cardinals finished the season ranked No. 6 and the Rams, No. 16. In 2017-2018, the Cardinals were ranked No. 2 and the Rams, No. 3, and in 2016-2017, the Cardinals were ranked No. 5 and the Rams, No. 11.
Aside from Jacksonville, the Coastal is also having a down year in boys soccer. The Cardinals (11-1-1) are ranked No. 4 in the classification, but perennial powerhouses White Oak (7-4-2) and Swansboro (5-8-2) are only ranked No. 25 and No. 43, respectively.
Just last year, however, Jacksonville was ranked No. 19, Swansboro, No. 24 and White Oak, No. 37. In 2017, the Cardinals were ranked No. 4, the Pirates, No. 16 and the Vikings, No. 22.
The girls soccer talent in the Coastal is strong every year, and West has played a big role in that in recent seasons. This spring, Jacksonville was the top-ranked conference team at No. 14, followed by White Oak (No. 24), West (No. 38) and Swansboro (No. 39). In 2018, the order was Jacksonville (No. 8), West (No. 12), Swansboro (No. 19) and White Oak (No. 32). Jacksonville led the way again in 2017 at No. 8, followed by West (No. 15), Swansboro (No. 30) and White Oak (No. 41).
(Send comments or questions to email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)