Neila King

St. Stephens' Neila King (3) goes to the net against Hickory's Olivia Pisel (5) in this file photo.

With school beginning today, some schools will pull back the schedule a bit to allow students to acclimate to their classes and get into a routine. 

Athletic programs are still in their nonconference schedule with the volleyball programs gearing up for their league slates which will start in another week. Volleyball easily has the more intriguing matchups this week. Here is a look at what’s to come.

 

1) Fred T. Foard at North Iredell volleyball (Monday)

Six state volleyball championship banners hang proudly inside Fred T. Foard's Copas Gym with team photos commemorating the titles also on display in nearby halls. On one oversized photo is a shot of the entire 2005 3A championship team surrounding the North Carolina High School Athletic Association plaque, all with elated, beaming smiles as the players and coaches hold up index fingers.

Among the group of players is then-freshman Meredith Lutz, who played for the Tigers all four years of high school before moving on to play at Lenoir-Rhyne. Now known as Meredith Lombardi, she returned 13 years later to take over the reins of the Tigers’ program as the head coach.

The 2005 championship was the last of a stretch of 11 seasons in which the Tigers won six state championships. The next two years, Foard advanced to the third round of the 3A playoffs, but then began a stretch of earlier exits with the program not getting past the second round until 2017. That year, under former head coach Alison Yount, the Tigers finally broke through for their first 20-win season since 2008 and made it to the 2A state quarterfinals.

With Lombardi at the helm last year, the program continued to take steps forward and when the Tigers went 24-2 during the regular season, they were rewarded with the top seed in the West Region. Foard again went to the Elite 8 before getting swept at home by state runner-up West Davidson.

Although Foard lost six seniors from that group to graduation, the Tigers' top two hitters, Michelle Thao and Megan Dorsey, return. Last week, the Tigers showed they again could be among the top teams in the state after they routed Maiden in straight sets.

Lombardi has put together a tough nonconference schedule and her Tigers will get arguably their toughest test in a road match at perennial state contender North Iredell. The Raiders have made four state title matches since 2008, winning it all that year and in 2017. North Iredell dropped back to 12-7 a year ago and was eliminated in the first round.

2) St. Stephens at Fred T. Foard volleyball (Tuesday)

While St. Stephens doesn’t have the prominence of their cross-county rivals at Foard, the Indians’ most successful run was not that long ago. Currently in the midst of 10 straight 3A playoff appearances, St. Stephens made it to the quarterfinals three years in a row with the climax occurring in 2013, when the Indians carried a 27-0 mark into the West final before dropping a five-set match to Jesse Carson.

St. Stephens has continued the playoff stretch but has just one playoff win (2015) since the West final appearance.

With a young team a year ago, the Indians went 14-11 overall and finished in a tie for third (9-5) in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference behind Watauga and Hickory. Coming out of the gate last week, the Indians haven't ducked anybody. They opened the season with a 3-1 loss at Crest, which was the Big South 3A co-champions last year. A day later, they swept 2018 playoff team Bandys and then played an always tough South Iredell team on the road, getting swept in the process.

The Indians will have a tough match at Copas Gym against the Tigers, but the tough schedule could serve them well later in Northwestern 3A/4A Conference play against teams such as Watauga and Hickory.

3) South Caldwell at Hibriten boys soccer (Monday)

High school boys’ soccer in Caldwell County has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Back in 2014, HIbriten, South Caldwell and West Caldwell combined to win 18 games. Last year, all three teams finished in the top half of their respective conferences and went to the state playoffs. Altogether, their record was 51-15-5.

Hibriten’s run to the 2A state quarterfinals was the county’s deepest run since West Caldwell pulled the same trick in 2013. The Panthers are looking to replace their top two scorers from a year ago, who tallied 76 goals between them. After two games, the reviews are mixed, but it may be more about the competition the Panthers have played rather than their own inefficiency. Hibriten lost 2-1 at Hickory in the opener last Monday, then forged a 2-2 tie with Surry Central, which went to the 2A state third round in 2018.

Single-digit win totals were the norm for South Caldwell with a 13-66-5 record from 2013 to 2016, the first four years of Elliott Bridges’ tenure. However, Bridges has turned the program around and the Spartans are 22-13-6 with winning records the last two seasons. Under his leadership, the Spartans have doubled the total number of state playoffs appearances the past two years. South Caldwell is starting to pick up wins over some of the area’s better teams. Last year, South Caldwell defeated Northwestern 3A/4A Conference co-champion Watauga and is 0-2-2 against Hibriten the past two years.  The Spartans are still looking for that elusive first state playoff win, but the program has come a long way. Their first look at the 2019 season will be at Hibriten.

4) Fred T. Foard at Maiden tennis (Monday)

This column normally would not feature a contest that has been lopsided in recent years. Since 2014, Maiden has not only swept Fred T. Foard in dual team tennis, it has routed the Tigers. The Blue Devils have won all seven dual team matchups by a combined 59-1. Last year, Maiden took the season opener 8-1, then swept Foard in the dual team playoffs 9-0 on the way to the 2A state title.

So, why put this among the top five? Because it could be the year the Tigers challenge their in-county rivals and, perhaps, get a little payback.

In between their 2018 meetings, both Foard (Northwestern Foothills 2A) and Maiden (South Fork 2A) won conference titles. Later on, Maiden took the 2A state team title and saw Zoe Huffman win her fourth individual state title. The Tigers also had a state champion crowned with doubles team Alexis Wolgemuth and Emily Campbell.

Last week, Maiden opened defense of its title with a loss to South Iredell. Foard won its first team match by unending last year’s Northwestern 3A/4A Conference champion Hickory.

Will there be a changing of the guard among the best 2A programs in the area? Or will Maiden regroup and reassert its dominance? It’ll be worth watching.

5) Hibriten at Hickory (Friday)

This will be the first meeting between the two “HHS” schools since 2016 when Hibriten won the latest of four straight in the series during their time as Northwestern 3A/4A Conference foes.

Hibriten will look to rebound from its first regular season loss since 2015 after Alexander Central dealt the blow to the Panthers last week. The Panthers hope to keep alive another streak when they travel to Hickory. The last road loss by Hibriten was at Kings Mountain in the third round of the 2015 3A playoffs.

Hickory hopes to have its legs back after playing Statesville Monday. The Red Tornadoes had their game against the Greyhounds postponed after persistent lightning wrecked the team’s home opener. The Red Tornadoes are looking for their first win against Hibriten since 2012.

 

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 AUG. 26-31

MONDAY, AUG. 26                  

FOOTBALL

Statesville at Hickory, 7 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Bessemer City at Maiden, 5 p.m.

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

Tuscola at Patton, 6 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at Wilkes Central, 6:30 p.m.

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

North Lincoln at Hickory, 6:30 p.m.

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

West Caldwell at Alexander Central, 6:30 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Fred T. Foard at Maiden, 4 p.m.

Hibriten at South Caldwell, 4 p.m.

St. Stephens at North Iredell, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Ashe County at Hibriten, 6 p.m.

Draughn at Maiden, 6 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at North Iredell, 6 p.m.

Patton at East Rutherford, 6 p.m.

TUESDAY, AUG. 27

BOYS GOLF

Alexander Central non-conference vs. Brushy Mtn Golf Club, 3:30 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

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

Statesville at Bunker Hill, 6 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

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

Hickory at Statesville, 4 p.m.

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

VOLLEYBALL

Avery County at Draughn, 6 p.m.

Bunker Hill at Bandys, 6 p.m.

Community School of Davidson at Maiden, 6 p.m.

East Burke at Freedom, 6 p.m.

Newton-Conover at West Caldwell, 6 p.m.

St. Stephens at Fred T. Foard, 6 p.m.

South Caldwell at Patton, 6 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 28

CROSS COUNTRY

Northwestern 3A-4A Conference Kickoff at McDowell High, Boys 5 p.m., Girls 5:30 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Alexander Central at West Iredell, 6 p.m.

Bunker Hill at Maiden, 6 p.m.

East Burke at Bandys, 6 p.m.

Freedom at Patton, 6 p.m.

Hickory at AC Reynolds, 6:30 p.m.

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

North Lincoln at Hibriten, 6:30 p.m.

Wilkes Central at South Caldwell, 6:30 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Alexander Central at Wilkes Central, 4 p.m.

Hibriten at St. Stephens, 4 p.m.

Patton at South Caldwell, 4 p.m.

Statesville at Hickory, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Bandys at South Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Bunker Hill at Newton-Conover, 6 p.m.

Crest at St. Stephens (Arndt Middle), 6 p.m.

Hibriten at Mitchell Co., 6 p.m.

Mooresville at Alexander Central, 6 p.m.

West Lincoln at East Burke, 6 p.m.

THURSDAY, AUG. 29

BOYS GOLF

Alexander Central vs. South Iredell, Larkin Golf Club, Statesville, 3:30 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

East Rutherford at Freedom (CRSC), 6 p.m.

North Iredell at Bandys, 6 p.m.

Ashe Co. at Hibriten, 6:30 p.m.

St. Stephens at Fred T. Foard, 6:30 p.m.

Davie at Alexander Central, 7 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Alexander Central at Hibriten, 4 p.m.

Draughn at Bandys, 4 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at St. Stephens, 4 p.m.

South Caldwell at West Caldwell, 4 p.m.

University Christian at Bunker Hill, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Draughn at Alexander Central, 6 p.m.

East Lincoln at Bunker Hill, 6 p.m.

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

R-S Central at Patton, 6 p.m.

South Caldwell at Hibriten, 6 p.m.

Watauga at Maiden, 6 p.m.

Wilkes Central at West Caldwell, 6 p.m.

FRIDAY, AUG. 30

FOOTBALL

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

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

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

Freedom at Draughn, 7:30 p.m.

Hibriten at Hickory, 7:30 p.m.

R-S Central at Patton, 7:30 p.m.

St. Stephens at Bunker Hill, 7:30 p.m.

South Caldwell at Maiden, 7:30 p.m.

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

BOYS SOCCER

Bunker Hill at Challenger, 6 p.m.

SATURDAY, AUG. 31

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