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Northwood Girls Basketball Wins The School's First Team State Championship In 52 Years

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff

RALEIGH — Northwood senior Myla Marve stood at mid-court on Saturday night, donning a lime green t-shirt with the logo of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association across the front. 

A gold medal rested around her neck.

“We really, truly appreciate all of the support from the community and from the school,” Marve said, unable to hold back a laugh in front of the crowd of parents, students, siblings, staff members and fans. “You’ve really encouraged us to play at our best at all times.”

At the end of her 65-second speech, she jokingly dropped the mic as DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” began blasting over the loudspeakers.

It was a moment not only laced with laughter and good vibes, but also of sheer confidence.

Northwood had reached the pinnacle — and it was time to celebrate.

Minutes earlier, the Northwood women’s basketball team returned to the school’s gym — their bus escorted by a pair of police officers who met them at the Chatham County line on U.S. Hwy. 64 — to a round of applause and Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” ringing throughout the room after they trounced the Enka Jets, 70-42, in the NCHSAA 3A state title game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh earlier that evening.

The second-seeded Chargers (30-1, 12-0 in Central 3A) used a mixture of phenomenal post play and suffocating defense to bury the 19th-seeded Jets (16-15, 5-7 in The Mountain 3A/4A) in an unforgettable game where Northwood led from start to finish.

For the first time in school history, the Chargers were state champions.

And they were determined to make the most of it.

In a late-night celebration in Pittsboro, a couple hundred members of the Northwood community got together to dance, take photos, eat pizza and, most importantly, watch the players and coaches cut down the net on one of the gym’s two main hoops — an impromptu decision influenced by a member of the crowd, who didn’t have to say much to convince Athletic Director Cameron Vernon to grab a ladder.

It was evidence of the tight-knit, passionate community that Northwood’s fostered over the last five decades — one hungry for a state title in a team sport for 52 years.

“It’s just a testament to the work ethic that these young ladies have,” Kerri Snipes, the Chargers’ first-year head coach, said in her press conference after the win. “They’ve been dedicated throughout, they’ve trusted each other, they’ve trusted me as a first-year coach. … We’ve had the support throughout the whole season, from our fans, from our community, from our school — and it really means a lot to bring the first one home.

“I hope that (our players) can enjoy that, as well,” she added, “not only bringing a state title home, but to also be the first one is really impressive.”

The mid-sized gym offered a stark contrast from the loud, nearly jam-packed arena 32 miles down the road, where just 3½ hours earlier, Northwood took the floor for its first-ever women’s basketball state championship game.

Despite the size of the arena, the volume of the fans and the magnitude of the moment, the Chargers never faltered, putting together a championship-worthy performance to catapult them into the history books.

Nearly flawless

Northwood fought and scrapped its way to a victory thanks to all of its components coming together in near-perfect fashion, including its play in the paint, its pressure-filled defense and its offensive playmaking, which truly shined in the first half.

The Chargers outperformed the Jets in nearly every statistical category in the blowout win. They out-rebounded the Jets, 37 to 18, primarily in part because of the stellar play of junior Te’Keyah Bland (17 points and 8 rebounds, named the East’s Most Outstanding Player), who was a game-wrecker for Northwood on both ends of the floor.

Marve, a 5-foot-5 guard, thrived in the paint, too, despite her size, nabbing 7 rebounds of her own and scoring 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting.

“We’ve had (Myla) fit into more of a post position a little bit for us,” Snipes said, “and she’s done a great job of stepping in and being flexible and playing guard or post or whatever we’ve needed her to do.

“Gosh, tonight we got the most rebounds we’ve had all season, which was really impressive for us,” she added, seemingly in awe of the way her team performed. “Te’Keyah played really well and crashed the boards hard. It’s just one of those things that I’m really proud of because we’ve kind of been harping on that all season: get rebounds and play good defense.”

The Chargers also dominated in points in the paint (42 to the Jets’ 20), second-chance points (19 to 0) and blocked shots (6 to 3).

Bland added 5 blocks to her stat line, while senior Caroline Allen — a 6-foot-1 center who was crucial to the Chargers’ creation of a stone wall inside — nabbed one of her own.

In addition to Northwood’s control of the paint, however, the Chargers thrived when it came to putting pressure on Enka’s ballhandlers, most notably during its full-court press early on.

Northwood senior Olivia Porter, who was named the Kay Yow Most Valuable Player for her contributions, led the defensive charge, collecting 3 steals as she seemed to constantly have her hand on the ball, getting in the way of all sorts of driving and passing lanes.

While most teams may look at the Chargers’ surplus of talented guards and see a logjam at the position, Snipes has embraced it, slotting them into roles that help maximize their potential.

That includes Porter’s fellow guards in senior Natalie Bell (3 steals), sophomore Skylar Adams (7 points, 4 assists), junior Gianna McManaman (7 points, 2 steals) and Marve, all of which had a heckuva day on the defensive end as Northwood’s press continuously forced Enka into mistakes — totaling 21 turnovers in all.

The Jets were led by the fearsome pair of senior Bentlee Chockley and junior Hadleigh Dill, who entered the championship game each averaging more than 18 points per game throughout the postseason.

But in typical Northwood fashion, its defense held the duo to just 26 combined points — Chockley with 14 and Dill with 12, which still totaled over half of Enka’s scoring — on 7-of-22 (31.8%) shooting, forcing them to make mistakes left and right, including 12 turnovers (6 each).

In short, it was a defensive masterclass for the Chargers, the perfect culmination of everything they’d worked on since the start of the season coming together to create a perfect storm.

And the Jets simply weren’t ready for it.

Spoiling Cinderella’s story

In the lead up to Saturday’s state title game, there were legitimate questions about Enka’s potential label as a “team of destiny.”

Yet, while the Jets may not have been destined to lift the trophy this season, there was little doubt that they’d rightly earned the Cinderella moniker.

After all, they were a team which stumbled into the postseasion after losing four of their last five games, including a 5-point loss in first round of the conference tournament to the T.C. Roberson Rams.

They were seeded 19th in the West with an 11-14 record.

But just as Cinderella did in her famed tale, they disobeyed the powers that be and carved their own journey — one that saw them win five straight road games, jump-started by a 16-point fourth-quarter comeback in the first round against the No. 14 Hickory Red Tornadoes, en route to their first state championship appearance since 1983.

It was only a matter of time, however, before the Jets flew into a storm they simply couldn’t navigate out of.

Enter the Chargers on Saturday night.

“We knew they (the Chargers) were good, you can’t take anything away from them, but they were a lot better than I thought they were,” Kyle Reagan, Enka’s head coach, said in his post-game press conference, shaking his head. “They’re talented, from the guards to the post. … They’re very well coached and extremely disciplined, offensively and defensively.”

Northwood had cruised through the 3A classification, including its own conference, for much of the season, earning 30-plus- and 40-plus-point victories left and right.

In the first round against the No. 31 Swansboro Pirates and third round against the No. 7 West Carteret Patriots, the Chargers won by margins of 57 and 53 points, respectively.

Their clash with the top-seeded Terry Sanford Bulldogs in the East Regional Final a week earlier — which Northwood hung on to win by 1 point, 51-50 — acted as their toughest 3A test all season.

The Chargers, entering the championship game, were the purest definition of a buzz saw: a hungry squad with a lock-down defense that simply eats inferior teams alive.

And Enka just happened to be another victim.

Makings of a champion

It didn’t take Northwood long to set the tone.

On the team’s second possession, Adams drained a 3-pointer for the first points in championship history for the Chargers, which was immediately followed up by a steal from Bell on the ensuing full-court press, leading to an easy transition bucket from Marve.

Then, on the very next Jets possession, Adams stepped in front of Enka freshman Gracie Merrell as she attempted a push a pass across half court, disrupting its trajectory and causing it to land right in front of Bland, who scooped it up and eventually scored on the other end.

A pair of layups by Marve and Bell gave the Chargers an 11-0 lead with 5:52 to play in the first quarter.

In that same span, the Jets had four turnovers, all of which led to Northwood points.

A classic saying around Pittsboro is the idea that “defense turns into offense,” which couldn’t have been clearer for a Chargers team that scored a whopping 28 points off of the Jets’ 21 turnovers.

Then, the first quarter turned into a clash of the titans — Porter vs. Dill.

Dill scored twice in the paint for the Jets to finally get them on the board with 5:30 to go in the opening period, but Porter drilled a 3-pointer on the other end, making it 14-4, in an attempt to shift momentum right back to the Chargers.

Porter and Dill combined to score 13 of 14 points, with a single Marve free throw acting as the lone point scored elsewhere, during the middle of the first quarter as the two went at it.

By the time Porter scored her final point of the quarter, a put-back bucket on a missed free throw, the Chargers had a 19-6 lead and were in full control.

Porter’s first-half performance was indicative of just how well the Chargers were playing offensively to start the game.

In the first half alone, Northwood shot 63% from the field and racked up 46 points of offense — more than Enka would score for the entire game. The Chargers didn’t have a single turnover in the opening quarter.

As the leader of the pack, Porter was 6-of-6 with 14 points in the first half, including 2-of-2 from behind the arc.

The Chargers led, 46-21, at the halfway point.

“Porter is unbelievable,” Reagan said with a small smile on his face. “She shot 100% from the floor in the first half and it wasn’t like we weren’t freaking guarding her. She was knocking shots down, coming off of screens. She stayed active and very aggressive.

“Any time you allow a team to shoot 63% from the floor in the first half and score 26 points in the paint, you’re probably going to get your tail whooped a little bit early on,” he added, “but I never thought it was over, I’ll tell you that right now. I had full confidence in my squad. … We came out with a lot of fight and a lot of effort early on (in the second half), but the ball just didn’t bounce our way.”

However, the second half was much of the same: dominance on both ends from the Chargers.

Northwood, which has had a history of struggling in the third quarter throughout the postseason, squeaked out an 11-9 third period behind 7 points from Bland.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Northwood had a 57-30 lead and the crowd inside of Reynolds Coliseum was off the charts.

The Chargers were eight minutes away from their first state title.

Northwood hopped out to its largest lead of the game, 63-31, on a gorgeous eurostep from McManaman with 5:13 to play, and four minutes later, the Chargers’ starters exited the game to a standing ovation from the sea of green-and-white in the stands.

When the final buzzer finally sang — the result having been a foregone conclusion for much of the second half — the players crowded around each other where they hugged, danced and breathed one large sigh of relief.

They’d done it. They were officially state champions.

The dust finally settled around 11 p.m. that night back in Pittsboro, when, one by one, the Chargers took turns climbing up the ladder and cutting off a small chunk of the net before turning to the crowd, holding up the net fragment and smiling for photos.

It was the moment that many of these players — including Porter, whose Auburn High School team lost in the semifinals in Alabama’s state tournament last year — longed for after the heartbreaking defeat in the Final Four last season.

“We’ve been on a journey,” Snipes said with a laugh to open her press conference following the win, “but I couldn’t be more proud of this team. The effort that they’ve put in all season has been tremendous. … They’ve poured their hearts into it, they’ve made sacrifices.

“The seniors (Allen, Bell, Marve, Porter) have led us to this point,” she added. “Some of them have been in these positions before and I’m so happy for them and so happy for the leadership they’ve shown.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.  

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