OCEAN — Expect the Croatan girls basketball team to look a little familiar this winter.

In fact, the Cougars are bringing back all five starters and their top seven scorers from a 20-3 finish in 2018-2019. The program went 14-0 in 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference play and reached the second round of the state playoffs, but 10th-year coach Andrew Gurley is ready to take the next step.

“We want to remember last year as last year,” he said. “My expectation is we’re going to be tough, and we want to take it to the next level. We won 20 games last year, and that was great. We met a lot of our goals last season. But that’s the past, and it’s a new season. I want to take that next step. (After getting to) the second round of the state playoffs (last year), I think we’re ready to take that next step.”

The Cougars only graduated one senior in Ashley Crane, bringing back a cadre of seasoned upperclassmen who were ousted in the second round in 2018-2019 and the first the previous year.

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BEAUFORT — The East Carteret girls basketball team isn’t starting from scratch, but it’s definitely starting over.

The Mariners feature a new coach in Keith Bernauer and almost an entirely new starting lineup after losing four seniors from one of the best teams in school history.

“It’s always tough when you lose four seniors, especially four that takes you to the final four in the state,” Bernauer said. “Rebuilding a program has always been my dream. I think that we have the girls in place to make it happen.”

The West Carteret grad has coached the Morehead City Middle School girls team for the last three years, leading the squad to a 11-1 record and conference championship last season.

Former coach Tod Morgan recently stepped down to take the principal job at Jones Senior.

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MOREHEAD CITY — There’s a buzz building around West Carteret basketball this year, and the girls team is all too ready to jump on board.

The Patriots are looking to take the next step with four of their top six scorers returning from a season that finished 8-17 overall. Experience is up across the board, with the program eyeing a better finish than third in the 3A Coastal Conference.

“There’s a buzz around West Carteret basketball in general,” West coach Lindsey Howell said. “We only have two seniors, but we have a lot of experience with younger kids who saw playing time coming back. There’s a lot less teaching and a lot more fine-tuning.”

Howell is back for her second straight year and seventh total with the program.

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ROCKY MOUNT — Antonio Johnson collected his second consecutive USA South Defensive Player of the Week honor and his fourth of the season after helping lead N.C. Wesleyan to a 23-7 upset of Huntingdon College.

The senior linebacker totaled 13 tackles on Saturday, as well as producing two sacks, three tackles for loss and a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown. He had 11 solo tackles and two assisted takedowns, while his tackles for loss resulted in 9 negative yards.

The former West Carteret standout’s interception in the fourth quarter sealed the victory for the Battling Bishops, helping them improve to 5-4 on the season and 4-2 in the conference.

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(For complete stories of these briefs, see the newsstand and home delivery edition or the full online e-edition.)

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