EASTERN WAKE COUNTY — Highlights of the past year in local sports looked a lot like they did in 2012.
They were again dominated by Knightdale teams, and in 2013 the laurels grew larger for the boys track and field team and the Knights football program than ever before.
That made it hard to rank the top-two events of the past 12 months, but the following list attempts to do just that and includes six more noteworthy episodes of 2013.
1. Knightdale continued track dominance: I, too, first considered football for this top spot. But it’s impossible to discredit the dynasty going on with the boys track team at Knightdale. In February, the Knightdale boys picked up their third consecutive indoor track and field 4A state title. Between that time and the spring season, David “Prince” Castell, who coached the Knightdale boys track team to five state championships, abruptly resigned from his job with Wake County Schools for what he called personal reasons. The Knightdale athletes weren’t big fans of the situation – some were flat-out broken hearted. But it did not phase their performance come meet time. In May, while coach Anthony Byrd subbed in for Castell, the Knightdale boys (68 points) matched their indoor state title count with their third straight outdoor championship, and broke a record that had stood for 26 years. The team’s finish in the 4-by-400 (3:12.87) took out a record set by Hillside that had stood since 1987. Junior (in the spring) Marquavious Johnson ran the anchor leg, while senior Bernard Freeman and juniors Marcell Johnson and Henry Kiedy ran the others. It left the Knights, who also claimed the 4-by-800 (7:46.19), ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 4-by-400. The Knights also took second in the 4-by-200 in the outdoor state meet, while Marquavious Johnson won the 400 (47.16) and Kimani Hoffman won the triple jump (46-8).
2. Season of football firsts: Knightdale beat Garner for the first time ever before claiming its first-ever Greater Neuse River 4A Conference title. The Knights made it past the first round of the state playoffs for the first time and then went above and beyond, reaching the third round and giving state power Scotland a test down to the final 16 seconds in Laurinburg on Nov. 29. The 2013 Knights finished with an 11-2 record including a perfect 8-win conference count, a stout improvement over the program’s previous best record of 7-4. The team was led by quarterback Marquavious Johnson, an East Carolina recruit known for his speed and play-making abilities. Consider it a good call on the part of Knightdale coach Rob Senseney to put a national caliber track runner in position to rush for more than 1,000 yards and pass for nearly that many. “Marquavious is a driven competitor who is explosive with football in his hands. That is why we put him at quarterback,” Senseney said after Johnson was named to the News & Observer All-Metro football team. Knightdale finished fourth in the N&O’s final rankings for the 2013 football season.
3. A memorable playoff run: East Wake also had an athletic team reach the third round of the state playoffs, only to be dismissed by Scotland in Laurinburg. A 6-3 loss to the Scots in May ended a memorable softball playoff run for the Greater Neuse River No. 4 seed Warriors, who finished 16-6. East Wake won on the road in each of the first two playoff rounds – the first a 4-run shutout of Wilmington Laney that avenged a loss to the same team in the same round the year before, and the second a 6-4 upsetting of league rival Garner. Pitcher Lauren Miller (1.17 ERA) was named to the N&O’s All-Metro softball team at the conclusion of her senior season.
4. A stunning headline: If you weren’t at the game and saw the online story, “East Wake football stuns Garner,” there’s a good chance you questioned the order of that sentence. That’s because East Wake hadn’t defeated its longtime rival in nine years. But it was no typo. It was an amazing night for East Wake that probably drew the loudest, proudest cries out of Warrior football fans in a decade. Quarterback Trent Evans accounted for 504 total yards in the 54-40 upset of the Trojans, throwing for 345 yards and five touchdowns and running for 159 yards and two more scores.
5. Pinning into the postseason: Following the 4A state finals, held March 1-2 at Greensboro Coliseum, retro-rankings listed Knightdale’s LaMar Dulin (24-3) in a tie for seventh place out of all 195-pound wrestlers in the state. The East region No. 2 seed faced an uphill battle in the state finals after being pinned in the first round. The loss meant Dulin had to start from the bottom of a five-round bracket to determine the third-place winner. He pulled a 7-6 decision win in the first of those rounds, and managed a pin in 2:03 in the second round before his run was ended by a 9-1 defeat by Jack Britt’s Saetyre McDowell (the East’s No. 1 seed) in the third round. The Knightdale team also saw a brief postseason after placing second in the Greater Neuse and qualifying for the team state duals for the first time in school history. Shorthanded due to injuries, the team bowed out after one match against South View.
6. State fishing champs: No, fishing is not an NCHSAA-sanctioned sport. But on Oct. 12, recent East Wake graduates Austin Boyette and Joe Edwards competed as a two-man team in the Student Angler Federation’s Southeastern Conference Championship at Lake Lanier near Gainesville, Ga., and tied for third place with five fish weighing in at 11 pounds, 4 ounces. To qualify for the regional, Boyette and Edwards won the North Carolina Student Angler Federation’s state championship, held at Kerr Lake in Henderson in April. They finished nearly a pound ahead of second place.
7. Coaching carrousel: In June, Athletics Director Guy Blough announced changes to six head coaching positions at Knightdale High School – for boys and girls varsity basketball, varsity cheerleading, cross country, varsity softball and varsity volleyball for the upcoming school year. A highlight of those changes: Anthony Byrd, who previously coached the varsity girls basketball team, filled the vacancy created when veteran varsity boys coach Battle Watkins announced his departure from the school in May. Watkins accepted the role of athletics director at Carroll Middle School in the community where he and his family reside. At East Wake, Crystal Espey took over the varsity girls soccer team in the spring and coach Michael Howes took over the boys soccer program and led them to a 7-8-2 record and a playoff appearance in October.
8. Black Monday: All four varsity basketball teams from East Wake and Knightdale made the playoffs, but not a single team survived the first round on Feb. 25 – not even the favored East Wake girls. Their season ended with an 18-8 mark following a 61-58 loss at home to Harnett Central. The second-seeded Hoke County Bucks systematically rolled the East Wake boys, 83-54, and the South View boys outlasted Knightdale 78-72. Seventy-First’s girls took an early lead Knightdale couldn’t shake for a 74-59 win in Fayetteville.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews