Michelle Thao

Foard’s Michelle Thao (10) tries to power a shot past a West Wilkes player in this file photo.

School has opened across the region and after the Labor Day holiday weekend, students will return and settle into a routine. For local sports across the region, part of the routine is the start of conference play in volleyball and girls golf. Girls tennis and boys soccer continue nonconference tilts as those sports prepare for their conferences openers in another week. Football looks ahead to Week 3 of the season with a few 2-0 matchups that will sift out a few early unbeatens.

Here is a look at the week ahead.

1) South Fork 2A Conference Girls Golf (Thursday)

One of the more compelling stories in the area last fall was the South Fork 2A Conference girls golf championship. The ladies from Maiden and Lake Norman Charter battled their way through eight conference rounds before the Knights edged Maiden by three strokes to claim the league’s automatic bid into regionals.

Lake Norman Charter went on to win the 1A/2A Central Regional and finished fourth at the 1A/2A state championship. Maiden qualified three golfers for regionals, which was the minimum to qualify as a team in the 1A/2A West Regional. The Blue Devils finished second at the regional to advance to their second straight state championship and finished seventh for the second straight year.

Both teams will have key members to replace due to graduation, including Kayla Yang of Maiden, last year’s South Fork 2A Conference player of the year.

The teams will get their first look at what they have this week as West Lincoln hosts the first conference round at Deer Brook in Shelby.

2) Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference Volleyball

The start of the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference season could be labeled as a “contender or pretender” week. Coming into this week, five of the eight conference schools are either unbeaten or have just one loss with a combined record of 24-3. The list does not include West Iredell, last year’s 2A West runner-up. Burdened with a tough nonconference schedule, the Warriors are 2-4.

The early successes continue what was a tough conference a year ago. Five schools made the playoffs with Fred T. Foard getting a No. 1 seed along with the Warriors’ run to the final four.

In the first two years of the league, Foard and West Iredell have ruled their rivals with an iron first, losing only to each other in splitting conference championships. East Burke and Bunker Hill have traded third and fourth places with Draughn taking fifth. And now, after winning six matches over the last three seasons, Patton is making noise at 5-1.

Foard (6-0) will get a look at two of the challengers this week as it hosts Patton (5-1) on Wednesday, then goes to Bunker Hill on Thursday. The Bears gave 2018 defending South Fork 2A Conference Champion East Lincoln a battle before losing in five sets last Thursday.

After opening at West Caldwell Wednesday, East Burke (4-0) will travel to West Iredell the next day.

Draughn (4-1) will host West Iredell Wednesday, then play Burke County rival Patton Thursday.

3) Bandys at South Caldwell football (Friday)

After three straight losing seasons, Bandys and new head coach Tom Eanes blazed onto the scene with the opening play of the 2018 season — a kickoff return by Jacob Ellis. As it turns out, that spark wasn’t just a momentary flash, but an indication that a full conflagration was at hand. The Trojans were a bad fourth quarter at Hickory from an undefeated regular season, which ended in the 2AA quarterfinals at Hibriten.

Coming into this season, Bandys had to replace all-time rusher Ethan Howard and so far, it has done so with Isaiah Gilchrist and Hunter Jones. The Trojans are 2-0 after wins over county rivals St. Stephens and Fred T. Foard.

Like Bandys did a year ago, South Caldwell is looking to rebound from three unsuccessful seasons. After the Spartans went 11-3 in the last year of Butch Carter’s tenure in 2015, it’s been a tough road. South Caldwell went 2-9 in 2016, 1-11 a year later, then 3-8 last year. Two weeks ago, the Spartans blasted West Caldwell 60-7, but with the Warriors coming off a winless season in 2018, that win may have triggered a mere shrug. However, a 14-13 win at Maiden this past Friday may show that the Spartans need a closer look.

The win put the Spartans on their first two-game winning streak since late 2016 and gave them their first 2-0 start since 2015. Is South Caldwell on the way back? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but a win over Bandys this Friday would signal the Spartans are honking the horn on the road.

4) Newton-Conover at Hickory soccer (Thursday)

This nonconference match is usually a highlight for fans of high school soccer in this area and this Thursday’s match is not likely to disappoint.

The amount of respect both soccer programs receive around the state can been seen in the invitations issued to both schools to play in the North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association’s Kickoff Classic in Cary the past two seasons.

A year ago, after suffering its first regular season loss since 2015, Newton-Conover came out and edged Hickory 1-0 in a classic showdown. The Red Devils have now won three in a row in the series with Hickory’s last win coming in 2015.

The match is the latest of what have been tough nonconference schedules for both programs. For the Red Devils (5-0), they opened the season with a 1-0 win at Watauga — last year’s Northwestern 3A/4A Conference co-champion with Hickory. During the Kickoff Classic, the defending 2A West champions defeated East Duplin, a 2A state quarterfinalist last year. Newton-Conover has also beaten Statesville, last year’s North Piedmont 3A Conference runner-up, and Owen, which is unbeaten in the Western Highlands 1A/2A Conference the last two years. The Red Devils are looking for their third straight trip to the 2A state finals and the third state title in six years.

Hickory (2-2-2) opened the season by splitting games against 2018 2A quarterfinalists East Lincoln and Hibriten. After a win and a tie in Cary, the Red Tornadoes tied North Lincoln before a loss at A.C. Reynolds on Wednesday.

5) Alexander Central at St. Stephens volleyball (Thursday at Arndt Middle)

The Northwestern 3A/4A Conference receives three 3A automatic bids into the state tournament. A year ago, Watauga and Hickory took the first two, which left Alexander Central and St. Stephens to battle for the third automatic spot.

The Cougars and Indians both were swept by Watauga and Hickory last year, so when they split the two regular season matches to wind up 9-5 in the conference, a neutral-site tiebreaker game was played. St. Stephens won that contest 3-1 and got the automatic bid.

With the Pioneers and Red Tornadoes again clear favorites in the league, Alexander Central and St. Stephens figure to do battle again for that third guaranteed playoff spot. The two schools will face each other Thursday.

Others to watch:

Football: Statesville at Alexander Central (Friday). Former North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference foes meet in a showdown of 2-0 teams.

Soccer: Fred T. Foard at East Lincoln (Wednesday). The Tigers (2-0-2) look to stay unbeaten this week with a match against Crest on Tuesday, then travel to 2A state contender East Lincoln on Wednesday.

Volleyball: Bandys at Maiden (Tuesday). After a 1-3 start, Bandys dealt Maiden one of two losses in the South Fork 2A Conference, which eventually cost the Blue Devils a co-championship. Maiden won the rematch in five sets.

Tennis: Maiden at Hickory (Thursday). The Red Tornadoes host the defending 2A state champions.

Football: Newton-Conover at Hickory (Friday). The annual rivalry game is on tap Friday night, as the Red Tornadoes (0-2) look to make it two in a row after they surprised Newton-Conover (1-0) 35-6 on the road in 2018.

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. Varsity soccer and volleyball matches often follow JV contests, so times listed are approximate. Schedules are subject to change without notice. For more information on an event, contact the school.

WEEK OF SEPT. 2-7

MONDAY, SEPT. 2                              

No Events Scheduled

TUESDAY, SEPT. 3

GIRLS GOLF

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference Match at Boone Golf Club (Watauga hosts), 3:30 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

North Gaston at Hickory, 6 p.m.

West Iredell at South Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Crest at Fred T. Foard, 6:30 p.m.

St. Stephens at East Burke, 6:30 p.m.

Shelby at Patton, 6:30 p.m.

Hibriten at Ashe County, 7 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Crest at St. Stephens, 4 p.m.

East Burke at Newton-Conover, 4 p.m.

University Christian at Hickory, 4 p.m.

North Iredell at Alexander Central, 4:30 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Alexander Central at McDowell, 6 p.m.

St. Stephens at Watauga, 6 p.m.

South Caldwell at Freedom, 6 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Bandys at Maiden, 6 p.m.

Lincolnton at Newton-Conover, 6 p.m.

Nonconference

Hickory at Independence, 5:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 4

CROSS COUNTRY

Alexander Central, Bandys, East Burke, Fred T. Foard, Freedom, Hibriten, Patton, South Caldwell at Caldwell Invitational, Lenoir Soccer Complex, 4 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Challenger at Bunker Hill, 6 p.m.

Patton at Owen, 6 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at East Lincoln, 6:30 p.m.

Freedom at East Burke, 6:30 p.m.

South Caldwell at West Caldwell, 6:30 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Fred T. Foard at Alexander Central, 4 p.m.

Freedom at West Caldwell, 4 p.m.

Draughn at McDowell, 4 p.m.

St. Stephens at Newton-Conover, 4 p.m.

South Caldwell at Hibriten, 4 p.m.

West Lincoln at Patton, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Bunker Hill at Hibriten, 6 p.m.

East Burke at West Caldwell, 6 p.m.

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

West Iredell at Draughn, 6 p.m.

Non-Conference

Hickory at Statesville, 6 p.m.

Maiden at South Iredell, 6 p.m.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 5

GIRLS GOLF

South Fork 2A Conference Match at Deer Brook Golf Club, Shelby (West Lincoln hosts), 3:30 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Maiden at Bessemer City, 5 p.m.

Draughn at Freedom (Catawba River Soccer Complex), 6 p.m.

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

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

St. Stephens at West Iredell, 6:30 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Alexander Central at Bunker Hill, 4 p.m.

Draughn at West Caldwell (non-conference), 4 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at East Lincoln, 4 p.m.

North Lincoln at Hibriten, 4 p.m.

Patton at Freedom, 4 p.m.

Maiden at Hickory, 4 p.m.

Newton-Conover at St. Stephens, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Alexander Central at St. Stephens (Arndt Middle School), 6 p.m.

South Caldwell at Hickory, 6 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Draughn at Patton, 6 p.m.

East Burke at West Iredell, 6 p.m.

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

West Caldwell at Hibriten, 6 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Maiden at West Lincoln, 6 p.m.

Newton-Conover at Bandys, 6 p.m.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 6

CROSS COUNTRY

Alexander Central, Bunker Hill, Freedom at Friday Night Lights, Ivey Redmond Park, Kernersville, 7:50 p.m.

FOOTBALL

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Draughn at Fred T. Foard, 7:30 p.m.

Nonconference

Bandys at South Caldwell 7:30 p.m.

East Burke at Freedom, 7:30 p.m.

Hibriten at Ashe County, 7:30 p.m.

Maiden at Bunker Hill, 7:30 p.m.

McDowell at Patton, 7:30 p.m.

Newton-Conover at Hickory, 7:30 p.m.

North Lincoln at West Caldwell, 7:30 p.m.

Statesville at Alexander Central, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 7

CROSS COUNTRY

Draughn at Knights Crossing XC Invitational, Green Hill Park, Salem, VA, 10:30 a.m.

East Burke at Rocket H.K. Relay at AC Reynolds High, 8:30 a.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Maiden at Sugar Slam Doubles Tournament, Enka High, 9 a.m.

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