Stepping Up: There’s nothing more cyclical than high school sports

Published 7:20 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Less than two years ago, Washington was one swing of a boot away from a state championship. Then, in last year’s eastern regional championship, Southside came one possession from knocking off eventual champion Plymouth and earning a trip to the title game.

In that two-year stretch, Northside had won just six games — four in 2014 and just two in 2015. Now the Panthers, 4-0 heading into Friday, are making a case for being the best team in the county.

They’re also showing that high school sports are more cyclical than athletics at any other level.

If a coach — not just for football, but any high school sport — is really lucky, he will get a player on varsity for four years. That’s uncommon, though. Even some of the best athletes get to start at the varsity level when they’re sophomores, and most only play at the top for their junior and senior seasons.

Because of that, there’s a constant need to fill the voids left due to graduation. It’s something that happens at the collegiate level, too, but college teams have the luxury of recruiting talent from across the country. High schools are restricted to the players available in their area.

Some of the best teams come about thanks to equal parts coaching and luck. Of course, a good coach is necessary to bring the best out of players. Timing can play a big part, too, as a strong core group of upperclassmen on any team can yield a championship contender.

Those pieces fell in place for Washington’s 2014 football team. It started with a defense that gave up just 158 points in 16 games. Seven players tallied at least 80 tackles for the Pam Pack, and five had over 100. They were all juniors and seniors.

Then there was the senior duo of Markel Spencer and Xzavier Clark, which combined for over 2,800 rushing yards. Spencer surpassed the 2,000-yard mark that season and scored 27 touchdowns.

Such was the case with last season’s Seahawks club. They had Lawrence Brown (2,285 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns) and Matt Baxter (1,244 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns) as a dual threat in the backfield. They were able to drive the offense thanks to stellar work in the trenches by the likes of Donshae Tatum and Josh Crance, among others.

Now it’s Northside’s chance to have the pieces fall into place. The majority of last year’s key pieces returned this season, and the Panthers made additions on the offensive and defensive lines. Another year of experience for the backfield tandem of quarterback Jackson Midgette and running back James Barrow is paying off nicely.

Barrow, Midgette and others are bigger, stronger and have a better understanding of the system this year. In four games, Barrow has seven rushing touchdowns and Midgette has ran in four. Those are mirror images of what the two of them were able to accomplish in an entire season last year.

It happens in every sport. Southside volleyball is 9-1 this season and a perfect 3-0 in 1-A Coastal Plains Conference action going into Thursday’s home match with Pamlico County. The Lady Seahawks totaled just eight wins over the last three seasons combined. They’ve had the talent in years past, but they’ve been also been a younger team. Going through the ringer for a year or two has seemingly paid dividends, as has the work of first-year coach Atyana Starkie.

The same thing could happen for the Lady Pack soccer team in the spring. The girls had a strong showing last year before being shocked in the first round of the playoffs. In 2017, they’ll only have to deal with the graduations of Alyssa Rodriguez and Rylee Anderson. The team will be almost exclusively upperclassmen.

Even Washington football, which is off to an 0-3 start to the season, has a lot coming back on what should be an impressive squad next year.

There’s plenty of athletic talent throughout Beaufort County. Records and stats might not always show that. With the cyclical nature of high school sports, sometimes the stars have to align a bit for that to shine through in the form of a lot of success.