Athletes, teams to watch in spring


Spring break is finally here for Chatham County Schools, and apart from offering students respite from the day-to-day demands of classes, this week is a pivotal point in the athletics schedule.

Many sports’ regular seasons close at end the of April, and many programs have half a dozen or fewer games remaining before the start of the postseason. The next few weeks should feature some of the fiercest competition we’ve seen all school year as teams try to win conference championships or play themselves onto the right side of the bubble.  

With that in mind, here are my five student athletes/teams to watch during the rest of the spring regular season.

Lucas Smith, junior, Chatham Charter

The athlete with arguably the most productive last few weeks in Chatham County, Chatham Charter junior Lucas Smith has been on a tear for the Knights’ track and field team.

A short-distance specialist, Smith won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes at the Chatham County Championships on April 1, and he followed it up by winning the same three events at his next meet at Seaforth on April 4. In four total meets this season, Smith has nine first-place finishes, including four wins in the 400-meter.

While Smith looks like a seasoned sprinter, this is actually the first season competing with the Knights’ track and field team. Last spring, Smith played baseball for Chatham Charter, batting .412 with 14 hits, 14 RBI and 18 runs scored over 19 games. 

Smith’s season-best times in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes are 11.44, 23.19 and 53.07 seconds, respectively. Those times would have placed fifth, seventh and ninth at last spring’s 1A state championship meet.

This year’s 1A mideast regionals take place at Pender High in Burgaw on May 13, while the 1A state championships will take place the following weekend on May 20. Smith figures to be a competitor to take a podium spot in both meets.

Matt Murchison, sophomore, Chatham Central

No baseball player in the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference has more RBI than Chatham Central’s Matt Murchison. In 14 games this season, the Bears’ sophomore has plated 26 runs, 11 more than the next closest player and the second-highest mark of all batters in the 1A classification this season.

On top of batting .375, 10 of Murchison’s 18 hits this season have been for extra bases. His six triples are also the most of any player in the 1A east this spring.

Last season, his first with the Bears, Murchison played 25 games, batting .419 with 31 hits, 25 RBI, seven doubles and two home runs. At his current pace, he would have 32 hits, 46 RBI, seven doubles and 10 triples if Central plays the same number of games as it did in 2022.

Of course, the Bears want to play more games than that. Last season, Central lost in the fourth round of the 1A state tournament to Perquimans, 7-0. If Murchison continues to produce runs at this pace for the Bears, they could make it even farther in the playoffs this year.

Mia Collins, senior, Northwood

The top player for Northwood’s girls lacrosse team this season in terms of points (63), senior Mia Collins has really saved her best season for last.

After totaling 28 goals and two assists as a sophomore and 46 goals and 12 assists as a junior, Collins already has 51 goals and 12 assists in 12 games played this season. Her knack for finding the back of the net has helped the Chargers to an 8-4 record entering the break.

This is Northwood’s fifth season as a program. The school record for wins in a year is 12, which the Chargers set while going 12-4 last spring. Northwood lost in the second round of the playoffs to Holly Springs, and Collins had one goal and one assist in the game. So far this spring, Collins has scored fewer than two goals in a game just twice. On the other hand, she’s tallied six games with at least five goals.

Right now, the Chargers are ranked as the No. 23 team in the state by MaxPreps and could secure a first-round playoff game with a solid close to the regular season. Northwood should be OK in that regard considering how Collins is playing.

Woods Charter girls soccer

Despite its winning streak coming to an end last Thursday with a 2-2 tie vs. Northwood, the Woods Charter girls soccer team has arguably the best chance of any Chatham County team to win a state championship this spring.

Last season, the Wolves made it all the way to the 1A state finals before losing to Christ the King. The 2022 team had three players with at least 20 goals scored over 23 games, led by Leyla Noronha’s 50.

Entering their Tuesday game at Franklin Academy, this season’s Woods Charter team (10-0-1) has featured a more balanced attack, with five players scoring at least seven goals through the team’s first 10 games. And while Noronha is doing her part so far with 10 goals and eight assists, junior Sienna Gray and freshman Amanda Cherry lead the way with 16 goals each so far this season. In net, freshmen Wesley Oliver and Paige Apolito have combined for a goals against average of 1.315.

The girls soccer regular season lasts longer than most, with the official last contests coming on May 11. Between now and then, the Wolves will play 10 more games, including a pair of tough games with non-conference opponent Cornerstone Charter (9-2-2). 

Woods Charter is ranked as the top team in the 1A east in MaxPreps’ latest rankings. If they maintain that mark, they will play at home in the playoffs all the way up to the state championship round.

Jordan-Matthews boys tennis

While the top team in the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A boys tennis standings is Seaforth, right behind the Hawks with an 8-3 overall record and a 6-1 league mark is Jordan-Matthews.

The Jets have six of their past seven matches, including a pair of 8-1 wins over Chatham Central and Graham last week. This year’s Jets have already matched the win total of last year’s team (8-5), and they need three more victories to equal their program record of 11 that they set in 2018.

The top two singles players for Jordan-Matthews this spring have been Weldon Thornton and Paul Lujan, who are 5-4 and 8-3, respectively, across the No. 1 and 2 singles spots. Ricardo Rocha Benitez has a 9-2 record, including a 7-2 mark at No. 3, while Angel Gonzalez Surarez has gone 9-2 overall and 7-2 at No. 4.

In doubles play, Lujan and Thornton have a 4-2 record as the Jets’ No. 1 team, while Gonzalez Suarez and Rocha Benitez are 3-0 at No. 1 and 5-3 at No. 2.

Last spring, Jordan-Matthews lost in the first round of the 2A state playoffs to Washington after a 16-day gap following their final regular season game. This time around, the Jets will have a smaller period of time between games, an edge they hope will lift them to a deep postseason run. 

Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.