Chargers inch closer to perfect regular season with 13-point win over East Chapel Hill

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 2/18/21

PITTSBORO — It isn’t every year that your team goes undefeated in the regular season.

And for Northwood women’s basketball, it’s even rarer.

The Chargers won their last …

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Chargers inch closer to perfect regular season with 13-point win over East Chapel Hill

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Correction: This article states the 2020-21 Northwood team would be the first women's basketball team in school history to finish the regular season undefeated, but it's happened one other time in 1983-84. The News + Record regrets the error.

PITTSBORO — It isn’t every year that your team goes undefeated in the regular season.

And for Northwood women’s basketball, it’s even rarer.

The Chargers won their last home game of the regular season on Tuesday against the East Chapel Hill Wildcats, 48-35, improving their record to 11-0 and keeping them among the ranks of the unbeaten.

“I don’t know if we thought before the season that we’d be in this position, but we’re rolling with it and they’re learning how to play with a bullseye on their chest,” said Chargers Head Coach Cameron Vernon.

According to MaxPreps, Northwood is one of just nine remaining undefeated teams in the North Carolina 3A class — and one of only five of them to be at least 11-0.

With just one more game left on the regular-season schedule — Friday night at Vance County (2-3) — the Chargers are 32 minutes of game time away from making Northwood history.

“We’ve got a goal to reach and it’s not easy, just like being undefeated right now is not easy,” said Northwood senior guard Rae McClarty. “I think that if we win Friday, we’ll be the only women’s team from Northwood to ever go undefeated in the regular season, so that’s definitely something to be proud of.”

Two of the primary keys to the Chargers’ success are their depth and defense. And both were on full display against the Wildcats.

In each of the nine games since Jan. 15, Northwood sophomore forward Te’Keyah Bland has led the team in scoring with an average of 15.4 points.

When it comes to the Chargers’ second-leading scorer, four different girls have claimed that spot in that same nine-game span. A true testament to the spread-the-wealth mentality this team is known for.

“We just play good team basketball. I don’t think our girls are selfish, I don’t think anyone plays for themselves, I think they truly play for Northwood High School and they have done everything I’ve asked them to do, they’ve bought in,” said Vernon. “They’re a great group of kids.”

On Tuesday, junior guard McKenna Snively was the one who filled that second role, acting as a sniper from behind the arc by going three-for-three on triples in the second quarter, her last of which gave the Chargers a three-possession lead just before the half.

Bland, per usual, still found a way to get hers.

Her presence in the paint — whether she’s grabbing her own offensive rebounds, bailing out her teammates on putbacks or making simple yet hard-to-defend post moves as the guards feed her — is enormous. She may not be the tallest player on her team at 6 feet tall, but sometimes she sure feels like it.

“She’s not hit her ceiling yet, she’s not even close,” said Vernon. “She still can take plays off, but just her presence inside, her offense, her touch, once all of those things come together and she matures, she’s going to be pretty scary to watch.”

While the final score may look like a semi-close win for Northwood, the game was never truly in doubt.

The Chargers went up 6-0 to start the game, then allowed East Chapel Hill to make it 6-5 before pulling away again to lead 15-5. This cat-and-mouse game would persist for most of the evening, but the Wildcats could never truly catch up as Northwood controlled all 32 minutes.

No ties. No lead changes. Just an unbeaten team going to work.

Much of that work could be seen on the defensive end, especially in the play of guards McClarty and junior Natalie Bell, who hustled regardless of the situation, stuck their hands out to disrupt any plays the Wildcats tried to run and were menacing during Northwood’s press opportunities.

In total, the Chargers accounted for 18 steals against East Chapel Hill, with McClarty and Bell having two apiece, while freshman forward Skylar Adams thieved five by herself.

“That’s kind of how I’ve always been because I’ve never been a real avid scorer,” McClarty said. “Te’Keyah is a natural scorer, but for me, I’ve had to work for what I get. So if I can’t score, I’m going to help my team some other way. I’m quick, I’m agile. If I get any points, that’s how I get them. Defense has been my thing.”

Northwood, which locked up its Big Eight Conference title a couple of weeks ago, will find out who its first-round playoff opponent is on Saturday, with the game slated to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Due to the NCHSAA’s altered 2020-21 playoff bracketing format because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be just 32 teams in the state to make the playoffs — split into two regions of 16, the East and West — and matchups are essentially selected by random draw, which makes predicting your opponent tougher.

Regardless of the opponent, the Chargers seem up to the task. And a lot of that goes back not only to the team’s depth but to the versatility of that depth.

“We’re a talented team. We have a lot of talented guards, we have some really good, strong post players,” said Bland. “There’s not a lot of teams you come across that the whole lineup is a good team, a stacked team, and I feel like that’s what makes us stand out because everyone’s good. It’s not really anybody’s just there to be there. Everyone wants to be here, everyone’s working hard.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33

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