It’s all about the ladies at Croatan this year.

Seriously, the amount of talented female student-athletes at the school is astounding. The majority of the really special ones are seniors and juniors. If the Cougars are going to make a run in the playoffs, this is the year to do it.

Here’s the really cool part, though – the Cougars have a legitimate shot at making a state championship run in the fall, the winter and the spring.

It starts in the fall, specifically in late October when the state volleyball playoffs begin. The Croatan spikers are currently 9-2 overall and 5-0 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference, ranked No. 19 in 2A by MaxPreps.com.

If the postseason began tomorrow, there would be only seven teams from the east region ranked ahead of the Cougars when playoff seeds are distributed. Croatan matches up well with the majority of those teams ranked ahead of it.

MaxPreps has the Cougars’ schedule ranked a minus-1.0. No. 17 East Duplin (8-2) has a 0.1 strength of schedule, No. 16 N.C. School of Science & Math (8-2) has a 1.0 and No. 13 Clinton (10-0) has a minus-4.2.

The top four east region teams all have solid strength of schedules – No. 2 Wheatmore (12-1) with a 4.8, No. 4 Carrboro (9-2) with a 6.4, No. 11 Ayden-Grifton (8-4) with a 9.1 and No. 12 Currituck County (9-4) with a 8.1.

The Cougars reached the third round of the state playoffs last year before losing to Ayden-Grifton 3-0. The Chargers finished last season ranked No. 4 in 2A with a 23-2 record. The fourth round is the furthest Croatan has ever reached, last getting there in 2014 before losing 3-2 to South Granville, the eventual state runner-up.

The Cougars have a trio of three-year varsity players in Gracie D’Amico, Savannah McAloon, and Kelly Hagerty, who has been on the varsity all four years. The Cougars check all the boxes – inside hitting, outside hitting, passing, serving, defending and blocking.

If it’s going to happen for the Cougars on the volleyball court, this is the year for them to do it.

Fast forward to winter sports, where Hagerty, McAloon and first-year spiker Ally Roth will anchor a formidable basketball team. The Cougars finished last season 20-3 overall, 13-0 in the conference and ranked No. 15 in 2A.

The Cougars’ postseason hopes came to an end early with a 41-29 second-round loss to Ledford Senior, a step up from the first-round exit in 2017-2018 but sooner than expected.

Croatan graduated only one senior from a 14-player roster. It will bring back its top seven scorers and entire rotation. Leading the charge will be Hagerty, who had 15.2 points and 11 rebounds per game last season, and Ally Roth, who averaged 7.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.0 steals.  

The rest of the Cougars’ rotation is strong, including Haley Cousins with 6.5 points and 2.9 rebounds, McAloon with 5.8 points and 6.0 rebounds, Natalie Show with 5.4 points and 2.0 rebounds, Logan Howard with 2.8 points and 1.1 assists, and Mia Raynor with 2.6 points and 2.5 rebounds.

Croatan’s best shot at making a state championship run, however, will be in the spring on the soccer pitch. The Cougars have an absolutely stacked roster. Honestly, if they return the pieces that are due back from last year, they may be the most talented team top to bottom I’ve seen in six years at this position.

The Cougars finished last season 21-4 overall, 14-0 in the Coastal 8 and ranked No. 4 in 2A. They reached the fourth round of the state playoffs before losing to Clinton 2-1.

Incredibly, Croatan did all this without some of its best players. Top scorer from 2018, Kaia Richardson, missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Jessica Stern, arguably the team’s best defender, also never saw the field with a leg injury. Cousins raced to a team-leading 23 goals midway through the season before she hurt her back and missed the rest of it.

The Cougars will bring back its top nine scorers, including Howard with 26 goals and 15 assists, Cousins with 23 goals and five assists, Gentry Straub with 18 goals and 13 assists, Lorena Montesano with 17 goals and 14 assists and Gwen O’Brien with 15 goals and 10 assists.

The Cougars also retained starting keeper Hagerty, who had 23 saves and an 80-percent save rate, and virtually its entire back line of defenders. They out-scored opponents 126-16. Now they’ll be at full strength. If the Cougars are going to make it to the dance – they reached the regional finals in 2014 – this is the year to do it.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally

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