Howlingly hot: Wood Charter wolves claim 6-0 start after back-to-back 40-point routs

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CHAPEL HILL — It wasn’t the prettiest of sights.

Last Wednesday night, Woods Charter’s women’s basketball team had amassed a 30-point lead at halftime and was well on its way to continuing its undefeated season.

The score was 35-5.

And the Wolves’ morale was through the roof.

Woods Charter went on to crush the visiting Cornerstone Charter Cardinals, 50-6, in a never-in-doubt contest that not only exhibited the talent on this year’s roster, but proved that its hiatus in 2020 only made the team stronger.

“(Morale’s) pretty high right now,” Wolves’ senior Emi Hutter-Demarco said after the win. “We’re coming off of that win and we’re 5-0 right now. Once we face some tougher competition, I think it’s good to go in with positive spirits and just try to build the team up since we haven’t played with each other in two years.”

During its six-game winning streak to start the season — having beaten the Research Triangle Raptors handily last Friday — Woods Charter hasn’t won by fewer than 11 points, coming in the form of 11-, 36-, 27-, 20- and now 44- and 42-point victories.

While it may be early in the year, the Wolves are clearly a pack that’s hot and getting hotter, even with the lack of experience and chemistry on their roster entering the season.

Woods Charter’s women’s basketball program took the year off during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, leading Hutter-Demarco — now the team’s lone senior — to opt to play with the men’s team, an experience she said helped make her stronger and more prepared for her team’s return this year.

“It was a lot tougher competition with the guys because, obviously, they’re physically bigger than me,” Hutter-Demarco said. “So coming back into girls’ basketball, I just feel like I’m stronger and ready to drive into the paint. I can take those hard fouls. Actually, with the guys, it was more fast-paced, so it’s kind of slowing down with the girls and I have myself under control better.”

Hutter-Demarco is the team’s second-leading scorer (12.0 points per game) through her first six games, with her head coach, Princess Alston, calling her one of the “coaches on the court” alongside sophomore forward Lexi Smollen (15.3 points per game).

She’s also one of just two players left from the Wolves’ 2019-20 team, which went on an 11-7 campaign that ended in a first-round playoff loss. The other is junior Avis Lavinder.

Seven of the team’s 10 players are either freshmen or sophomores without a lick of high school basketball experience.

But despite the Wolves’ two-game losing skid to end the 2019 season, nearly two years away from the court and a youthful roster, they haven’t missed a beat.

“(A lot of us) played together in middle school, so that’s helped a little bit,” Hutter-Demarco said on building the team’s chemistry. “And during practices, we’re focused, but we want to get that social aspect going, especially outside of school. … It’s nice doing team-building activities.”

Against the Cardinals, it was obvious those team-building activities had a purpose.

From the opening tip, the Wolves controlled every aspect of the game.

Early on, they jumped out to an 18-1 lead behind 10 points from Smollen — a 6-foot sophomore who took the region by storm with her play this past volleyball season — and a strong defensive presence from both their front and backcourts.

The Cardinals scored just before the end of the first quarter on a mid-range jumper from sophomore Rachel Hunt to make it 18-3, but that’d be the penultimate field goal for Cornerstone on the night.

From there, the Wolves’ defense went on to force 27 turnovers in the final three quarters, including 15 steals, to shut down their opponent’s offense entirely and allow just 3 points for the rest of the game, which included a stretch early in the third quarter where Hutter-Demarco managed to collect five steals in the first five minutes.

The most notable sequence along that stretch came around the five-minute mark, where she stole the ball, handed it off to her teammate Caroline Mitchell — who traveled — then she promptly picked off the inbound pass, put up a shot that was just off the mark, got the offensive rebound and scored on the put-back.

It may not have been the most polished sequence, but it was a prime example of the team’s grit and persistence, which is exactly the way that Alston prefers her team be known.

“We try to be as much like wolves as we can be (on defense) and stay on our toes,” Alston said. “And the biggest thing is, we try to let the girls know that defense turns into offense, so we want to play defense first and that makes the game a whole lot more fun.”

At the end of the first half, junior Lucy Miller drilled a long jumper at the buzzer to give the Wolves that 35-5 lead.

As soon as the shot went in, she turned, wide-eyed, to her teammates on the court with a look of both joy and shock on her face as they corralled her to congratulate her on the shot.

For Alston, that camaraderie and support is something she’s come to expect from her underclassman-rich squad.

“We’re really like a family,” Alston said. “We want to get everybody involved. Nobody on this group is selfish at all. Even my senior (Hutter-Demarco), she’s already got a spot to play in college, but she’s already the most unselfish player that I’ve ever coached. … Everybody on our squad has scored, so we want to just build confidence.”

The Wolves’ 46-point win bled into another strong showing against the winless Raptors last Friday, where they were led by Smollen (17 points) and Mitchell (16 points) to a 53-11 victory.

Woods Charter is on its holiday break for the next couple of weeks, which means the Wolves (6-0) won’t take the floor again until Jan. 4 against the Triangle Math & Science Tigers (4-1).

But Alston and her team are fairly used to long breaks.

“We understand the season’s going to get a little tougher as we go along, so we want to take advantage of every second in the gym,” Alston said. “We’ve got to stay focused, stay grounded and just take care of business. … Eyes on the prize.”

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

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