Davis Amos

Hickory's Davis Amos (10) goes up for the shot between Hunter Huss' Kendall Corry (11) and Deneil Mackins (3) in this file photo.

Conference races are in full stride as teams start to create the landscape of who will compete for the top spots. This week, the first league championship will be decided in swimming.

There’s a lot to get through this week. Let’s get started.

1) McDowell at South Caldwell boys basketball (Tuesday), St. Stephens at South Caldwell (Friday)After watching South Caldwell during the Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic, I tweeted out that the Spartans were improved, as they seemed to play with a purpose, in contrast to the 1-23 team from last season. The tweet I sent out said, “Fans will need to be patient, but the Spartans play with confidence and purpose under (Coach) Danny Anderson. Fundamentally sounder group.”

I certainly thought the Spartans would pick off some teams, but given they lost to Watauga by 20 just before the holiday tournament, the wins would come only against the lower level teams in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference. Certainly, the Spartans would have to get those wins after playing the big two of Hickory and Freedom.

Sports are a funny thing.

Last Tuesday, in the first game since the Dick’s tournament, South Caldwell soundly beat Hickory 64-51. The Spartans then followed that win up with a 78-73 win at Freedom. It was the first over the Patriots since the 2006-07 season.

Now, the conference race gets interesting. With the “big two” out of the way in the first go-around of the conference schedule, South Caldwell is tied for second (2-1 NWC) with Freedom and Alexander Central, a half-game behind Watauga. Freedom and Alexander Central play each other this Friday.

The Pioneers have played one more conference game and they’ll get to see how both Hickory and Freedom rebound as Watauga gets both this week. Meanwhile, South Caldwell hosts 7-6 McDowell and 4-12 St. Stephens. Win both, and the Spartans will head into the final game of the conference’s first half of the schedule at Alexander Central with a 4-1 record.

Confidence and momentum are powerful intangibles in sports. Legendary coach Danny Anderson may have the formula to turn the season into a magical one.

2) Catawba County Swimming Championship (Tuesday)

A strong field from Catawba County returns to the pool for the annual swim meet held at the Hickory Foundation YMCA. Schools scheduled to participate include Hickory, St. Stephens, Fred T. Foard, Maiden and Newton-Conover. All five schools have qualified at least one swimmer for the regionals to be held Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

St. Stephens leads the way with a strong contingent of boys already setting qualifying times. Among the boys are Elijah Godfrey (200 yard individual medley, 500 freestyle and 100 breaststroke), Carson Parmenter (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and 500 free), Josh Talbert (100 free). (Note: swimmers can only swim in two individual events at a single meet). The Indian boys have already set regional qualifying times in the 200 IM and 200 relay races. For the girls, Katelyn Parmenter has had a strong season with qualifying times in the 200 and 500 freestyle, along with the 200 IM. She is also part of the 400 freestyle relay team that has set a regional time.

Other qualifiers for the girls expected to swim are Newton-Conover’s Valeria Hernandez-Pena, who has set qualifying times in four different races, along with two relay races, and Chloe Hedrick (100 back, 500 free). Hickory’s Gwen Durak, who made the regional in the 200 IM, is also scheduled to race.

For the boys, Foard’s Ethan McCosh, who swam at the state 1A/2A meet, will return to regionals in the 500 free and 100 fly, as well as two relay races.

Maiden’s Nathan Jimenez set a regional time in the 100 backstroke.

3) Fred T. Foard at Bunker Hill wrestling (Tuesday):

Using an educated guess, Bunker Hill has likely circled this date on the calendar since the 2019-20 schedule was released. And now it’s here.

After sitting out of the dual tournament for five seasons, the Bears returned in 2017 and defeated Brevard in the first round before bowing out to West Lincoln. A year later, the Bears nearly upset West Lincoln, losing by one before the Rebels went on the win the 2A state title. Last year, another close loss, this time to R-S Central, sent the Bears home after one round.

Currently at 23-1 (2-0 Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference), the Bears have picked off some top-notch opponents. None bigger, to this point, than perennial state contender Newton-Conover, which happened at Bunker Hill over the holiday break. Bunker Hill’s one loss was to Mooresville — last year’s 4A West finalist and the team tournament champion. But there is a bigger fish to fry, as the saying goes.

After finishing runner-up in the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference the last two years, this is the chance for the Bears to take another step. They’ll have Fred T. Foard in their den.

Foard (31-0) possibly has its deepest roster with the ability to go two deep at multiple weights, depending on matchups. The Tigers are led by Landon Foor (38-0) at 182 pounds. Also on the roster are Brock Carey (25-1, 113), Zane Birtchet (34-6, 132), Braden Wharton (32-6, 138), Justin Whalen (34-6, 152), David Weaver (26-6, 160), Hunter Lloyd (23-2, 170) and Jacob Belton (33-7, 195).

Give its record, Bunker Hill is not without weapons either. Leading the way is two-time state qualifier Casey Bolick (26-2, 220), as well as Brayden Guess (31-2, 145), Jadan Speaks (23-6, 152) and Lawson Vang (29-6, 106).

Foard looks to be the deeper team, but when a team has its shot at its own gym, funny things happen (see South Caldwell above). Bunker Hill will be lying in wait. It should be a fun night in Claremont.

4) Watauga at Hickory boys basketball (Tuesday), Hickory at Alexander Central (Friday)

When West Caldwell moved out of the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference after the last academic year, it got the league members a bye during the conference season. For the Hickory boys, they have to hope their bye last Friday was serendipitous.

Once a top-10 team in 3A, the Red Tornadoes were bottled up by Alexander Central for three quarters in the finals at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic before Hickory’s defense willed the team to a 38-28 win in that game. Since that win, Hickory (10-3) has lost three straight. The loss to Freedom (58-46) was not unexpected. However, the loss at South Caldwell was a shocker and Hickory followed that up with a lethargic effort in an 84-51 loss at home to Hunter Huss.

As far as the conference race is concerned, this is a make-or-break week for Hickory, which is already 1-2 in the league. The Red Tornadoes get current league leader Watauga at home on Tuesday, a team they beaten eight straight times. And then they’ll make the trip up to Alexander Central on Friday.

This is the sort of week Hickory could rebound and right the ship and all will be forgotten with two wins. It’s also the sort or week the Red Tornadoes could lose both. In that scenario, with a 1-4 mark, Hickory not only could say goodbye to the conference championship, but it could be worried about getting an automatic bid to the 3A state playoffs.

5) Northwestern Foothills 2A Swimming Championship (Friday):

A year ago, Patton won the conference girls meet and went on to finish 11th at the state 1A/2A meet. The Panthers have the same group back and they look ready to break into the top 10 this year. But the first goal is the conference championship.

The Patton girls set several automatic qualifying times for regionals early in the season and now have met the times need for all eight individual races, as well as the three relay times/ Advancing to regionals already are Caroline and Grace Lucas, Emma Sacchetti and Kadira McClure.

The boys conference title should be a tighter challenge between Patton and Draughn. Leading the way for those two squads are Mario Sacchetti for Patton and Jaxon Smith for the Wildcats. Both have set multiple regional qualifying times for individual events, as well as a part of relay heats.

Others to watch

Alexander Central at Freedom boys basketball (Tuesday): Will Freedom shake off the loss to South Caldwell, or will Alexander Central’s defense create havoc, as it did for Hickory?

Watauga at Hickory girls basketball (Tuesday), Hickory at Alexander Central (Friday): Freedom again looks to be the class of the NWC. Watauga is a half-game behind with Hickory another half-game back, tied for third with Alexander Central. A lot is on the line this week for the league’s second automatic bid.

East Lincoln at Maiden girls basketball (Tuesday), Maiden at Newton-Conover (Friday): Newton-Conover and East Lincoln are tied for first in the South Fork 2A Conference at 4-0. Maiden is third at 3-1. The Blue Devils have a chance to make some noise this week, as they play both.

HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY SCHEDULE

Schedules listed for the four-county region (Alexander Central, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba) are taken from information provided by the athletic departments of individual schools, from information published by the schools on its websites, or on MaxPreps.com. Most varsity basketball start times are approximate and follow JV contests. Schedules are subject to change without notice. For more information on an event, contact the school.

WEEK OF JAN. 13-18

MONDAY, JAN. 13

No Events Scheduled

TUESDAY, JAN. 14

BASKETBALL

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

McDowell at South Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Alexander Central at Freedom, 6:30 p.m.

Watauga at Hickory, 6:30 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Hibriten at Fred T. Foard, 6 p.m.

West Caldwell at West Iredell, 6 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

East Lincoln at Maiden, 6:30 p.m.

North Lincoln at Newton-Conover, 6:30 p.m.

West Lincoln at Bandys, 6:30 p.m.

SWIMMING

Fred T. Foard, Hickory, Maiden, Newton-Conover, St. Stephens at Catawba County Championship, Hickory Foundation YMCA, 6 p.m.

WRESTLING

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Watauga at Alexander Central, 6 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Fred T. Foard at Bunker Hill, 6 p.m.

Hibriten, West Iredell at West Caldwell, 6 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Lake Norman (nonconference), Newton-Conover at North Lincoln, 6 p.m.

Bandys at West Lincoln, 7 p.m.

Maiden at East Lincoln, 7 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 15

BASKETBALL

Nonconference

Bandys at Hibriten (boys only), 7 p.m.

SWIMMING

South Fork 2A Conference

Maiden, Lincolnton, West Lincoln at Shelby High, 5 p.m.

Hibriten, South Caldwell, West Caldwell at Caldwell County Meet, Lenoir Aquatic, 6 p.m.

WRESTLING

Nonconference

Bandys, Mountain Island Charter, Southlake Christian at Lake Norman, 5 p.m.

THURSDAY, JAN. 16

INDOOR TRACK

Draughn, East Burke, Fred T. Foard, Freedom, Hickory, Newton-Conover, Patton, St. Stephens, West Caldwell at Bunker Hill Polar Bear Meet, 4 p.m.

FRIDAY, JAN. 17

BASKETBALL

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Hickory at Alexander Central, 6 p.m.

St. Stephens at South Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Freedom at Watauga, 6:30 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

East Burke at West Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Patton at Fred T. Foard, 6 p.m.

Bunker Hill at Hibriten, 6:30 p.m.

West Iredell at Draughn, 6:30 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Bandys at Lake Norman Charter, 6:30 p.m.

Newton-Conover at Maiden, 6:30 p.m.

SWIMMING

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference Championship, Lenoir Aquatic, 6 p.m.

WRESTLING

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Alexander Central at South Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Hickory, St. Stephens, Bunker Hill (nonconference) at McDowell, 5 p.m.

Watauga at Freedom, 6 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Maiden at Newton-Conover, 7 p.m.

Nonconference

Asheville School, Chesnee (South Carolina), Mooresville at Patton, 5:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, JAN. 18

BASKETBALL

Nonconference

Hickory vs. Carver (boys only), Martin Luther King Tournament, Atkins High, Winston-Salem, 6 p.m.

WRESTLING

Nonconference

St. Stephens at A.L. Brown Duals, Kannapolis, 9 a.m.

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