KEEP POUNDING

Have you heard what a great year Croatan sports are having?

Of course, you have.

If you’re a fan of the Cougars, you can’t hear enough of it. If West Carteret or East Carteret is your team, I’m sure you’ve heard enough.

I know it feels like overkill to keep throwing accolades at the 2A school, but the tale of the tape justifies the attention.

Look at the News-Times Player of the Year awards, for instance. We’ve recognized 11 winners, and 10 have gone to Croatan. The decades-old boys and girls basketball player of the year awards always attracted controversy, so it makes sense that even more would materialize when we expanded the awards to include all sports.

But 10 of 11? How is that possible?

There’s a simple truth. Croatan is having the best sports year since the school opened its doors in 1998. This topsy-turvy COVID-19 year has seen lots of success from all three schools, but there’s something distinctly different happening at Croatan.

In the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference alone, the Cougars have already won 11 of 16 potential championships, and they’ll almost certainly win more.

So far, Croatan has been crowned conference champs in volleyball, boys cross country, girls cross country, boys swimming, girls swimming, boys soccer, girls soccer, football, boys golf, girls golf and boys tennis.

Those teams didn’t just win a conference title either. The team sports programs all went undefeated in league play, with only girls soccer giving up a single tie. It was the volleyball and girls soccer teams’ third straight championships, but football’s outright title was a program first, and boys soccer’s crown was only the program’s third.

The boys soccer team broke the mold and won a program-first state championship. Volleyball and girls soccer went on to reach the third round. Boys cross country won a regional and placed third in state, girls golf won a regional and placed fifth in the state, girls cross country and boys swimming both placed second in the region and fifth in state, and girls swimming finished third in the region and fifth in the state.

Of the five sports the Cougars didn’t win Coastal 8 championships in, two placed second and two were third. Girls basketball was only a win away from winning a title, while girls lacrosse was only two games back in its first-ever complete season. Boys basketball placed third with the program’s best overall record in almost a decade, and softball posted a fourth-place finish with its first .500 or better overall record in the same span of time.

Here are the sports that are left to crown a conference championship: baseball, girls tennis, boys track and field, girls track and field and wrestling. Boys and girls track and field are both bound for titles, plus a lot more. Girls tennis leads the Coastal 8 with a 4-0 record, and baseball holds a two-game lead over the conference at 11-0. Wrestling will have a shot at grabbing a share of the title on Wednesday.

Even without that, if the other four programs all win out, that would give Croatan a whopping 15 out of 21 conference titles. The school, so far, has six regional top-three finishes, two top-three state placements and a state championship. There is certainly more coming, plus a potential deep run in the playoffs from the baseball team.

Ten out of eleven player of the year awards is admittedly a pretty steep lean toward Croatan, but this school year has been an anomaly of unprecedented success for its programs. The bar is set so high that the only non-Croatan player to get an award was Jaxon Ellingsworth in boys basketball, where the Patriots reached the regional final for the first time in 35 years.

Next year will look very different for the Cougars when they move up to the 3A classification. The Coastal Conference will be much more competitive than the Coastal 8, threatening some of the school’s long-lived conference title streaks.

For now, though, Croatan is still having a banner year, and banner years tend to yield more awards.

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

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