The high school basketball season is winding down, and coaches will soon be thinking ahead to next year.
Hopefully, it will resemble something closer to normal with offseason summer camps and open gyms.
Both East Carteret teams featured strong three-player freshmen classes this season and seem set to keep playing at a high level.
The Mariner boys went 10-0 in the 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference to win the league for the second straight season. They went 23-1 in the final two seasons of the league.
They will lose one of the best players in program history in Bennie Brooks, and his loss will certainly be significant, but freshman Shamel Baker looks primed to step into his shoes.
Charles Matheka and Cole Jernigan also showed potential in their freshman campaigns.
Rotation regulars Jacob Nelson and Josef Lawrence will also return.
Freshmen Tanzania Locklear and Kenliana Dixon led the East girls, and fellow freshmen Kate Guthrie also showed promise. East will also bring back Kendalyn Dixon, as well as Hailey Grady and Camdyn Ensminger.
The Mariners went 6-6 and finished fourth in the Coastal 8.
The East teams will move from the Coastal 8 to a league including Pamlico, Jones Senior, Lejeune, Northside-Pinetown and Southside.
Pamlico should provide the main competition over the next four years.
The Hurricanes perennially produce one of the best girls teams in the state, going 190-23 over the past eight seasons and winning at least 23 games for seven straight years coming into this campaign.
If the Mariners can get by Pamlico, which should be a tall order for both the girls and boys, they will then have to deal with 2A teams in the postseason after getting bumped up from 1A in the new realignment.
The West Carteret boys won their third straight 3A Coastal Conference championship with an 8-2 mark.
The Patriots lose stalwarts Gavin Gillikin and James Kenon from their lineup but appear primed to win their fourth consecutive league title next season.
The rest of the roster returns, including Jaxon Ellingsworth who put up a monster year in his junior campaign.
West’s new conference of Croatan, Swansboro, White Oak, Dixon and Richlands doesn’t have any traditional powers, so the Patriots seem to be the cream of the crop on paper.
The West girls lose a key four-player senior class that played on the varsity for three seasons in the form of Cayman Montgomery, Kiki Hester, Caroline Beaver and Annie Fitzpatrick. The Patriots went 7-3 and finished third in the Coastal.
Jayden Lupton leads a promising returning group that includes Kasey McCoury, Sydney Roberson, Caroline Baylis and Hannah Moseley. Emme Baber should also return from a knee injury.
Swansboro won the championship this season with a 9-1 record but loses its top three scorers, so the new league looks wide open.
Croatan could conceivably compete with West for the top spot in the new conference if a few breaks go its way.
The Cougars lose longtime varsity players Logan Howard and Haley Cousins, and their losses will be difficult to overcome.
Ginger Hayden and Madi Rogers showed flashes as sophomores, however, and with a little improvement and a little help, Croatan could keep trucking after taking a runner-up finish at 10-2 following back-to-back undefeated league title runs.
The Croatan boys have been heading in the right direction in the Coastal 8, going from eighth at 3-11 to fifth at 6-8 to third at 8-4, but this year’s team will lose six of its top seven scorers and will need to start over almost from scratch in the new league.
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