SILER CITY — Nine months ago, Olivia Porter was a varsity basketball standout 480 miles away in Auburn, Alabama.
In her junior season, she averaged nearly 20 points per game for Auburn High School and led the Tigers to a semifinal finish in the Class 7A state tournament.
Now, after transferring for her senior season, she’s a breakout star for Northwood, scoring 22 points and grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game as one of the primary orchestrators of the Chargers’ perfect 4-0 start, leading the team in nearly all major per-game categories: points, rebounds, steals (5.3) and blocks (0.5).
Porter had herself a night last Wednesday against the Jordan-Matthews Jets, scoring 27 points and knocking down 3-of-4 shots from behind the arc to solidify a lopsided win, 61-21, in the Chargers’ second in-county rivalry game of the season.
“She just brings that energy and that hustle every single time, whether it’s on defense, whether it’s on offense, she’s very composed with the ball,” Kerri Snipes, Northwood’s first-year head coach, said about Porter after the win. “She’s been a great help for us.”
Porter, one of the team’s four seniors and the team’s only senior transfer, has established herself as one of the Chargers’ veteran leaders just three games into the season, said Snipes.
Against the Jets, Porter racked up 27 points (9-of-14 shooting), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 steals and a block — all of which led (or tied for the lead on) the team — in her flashiest performance in a Northwood jersey to this point.
Pair Porter’s scalding-hot start with a trio of returning seniors thriving with increased roles and you’ve got the recipe for the Chargers’ early season dominance.
Natalie Bell (4 points) and Myla Marve (12 points) are two of those seniors, both guards that have already exceeded last season’s expectations, where they both averaged less than 13 minutes per game on a talent-stacked roster.
Marve was the team’s second-leading scorer against the Jets on Wednesday, where she also complemented Porter’s ball-hawking ability, nabbing 5 steals of her own as she continually frustrated J-M’s offense.
“They both worked really hard in the offseason, I’ll give them credit for that,” Snipes said of Bell and Marve. “Natalie’s come in and kind of knows her role as being one of our go-to shooters and Myla’s been working hard, putting her as more of our post player, even as small as she is.”
While the season’s still young, Northwood has found a way to cruise past its competition so far, winning all four of its games by at least 36 points, including three by more than 40 points.
After finishing the regular season undefeated last year (11-0) and starting 4-0 this year, the Chargers haven’t lost a regular-season game since Jan. 7, 2020, against the Chapel Hill Tigers.
They’re 26-0 since that loss.
“It’s just the intensity,” Snipes said. “They all have that drive and the ones that were here last year definitely have that drive to want to get further than we did last year.”
The Jets, on the other hand, suffered three consecutive blowout defeats to start the season — including a 58-40 loss to Providence Grove last Friday — as they struggle to find their rhythm coming off of a one-win season a year ago.
They were able to earn their first win on Monday against the North Moore Mustangs, 60-49, in their most complete game this season.
Yet, last Wednesday, it didn’t take long for the Chargers to break the game’s seal, with Porter stripping J-M junior Maggie Thornton in a chaotic opening series that led to an easy fastbreak layup.
From there, Northwood took over, hopping out to an early 15-0 lead behind six Jets turnovers and nine points from Porter.
It wasn’t until J-M freshman Kalayah Headen scored in the paint with 2:15 to play in the first quarter that the Jets finally made it on the board. By the end of the opening period, it was 17-4 in favor of the Chargers.
“We shot ourselves in the foot early, we didn’t sprint back on defense like we were supposed to and (Northwood) came out and ran the floor early,” Lamont Piggie, the Jets’ first-year head coach, said after the loss. “They outran us at the beginning. … They jumped out to that early lead and we could never recover from it.”
The Chargers kept their feet on the gas even after the first-period buzzer.
Porter knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as the Northwood offense continued to roll, dropping 18 points in the second quarter, including another nine from Porter and four from junior Gianna McManaman.
But many of the Chargers’ points came courtesy of the Jets’ seven second-period giveaways, including a few errant passes that landed either out of bounds or right in Northwood’s hands going the other way.
In total, J-M coughed the ball up a staggering 23 times, a testament to Northwood’s primary strength: defense.
Not only were the Chargers turnover-forcing machines against the Jets, but they also limited the number of good looks they had at the basket, allowing no more than six points in any of the game’s four periods and holding J-M to just 9-for-39 (23%) from the field.
By halftime, Northwood had a 26-point lead, 35-9, and the game was all but over.
Yet, the Chargers still refused to let up. Even a little bit.
Northwood came out of the break with the same level of intensity they played with during the first half, with Porter and Marve combining for four steals in the opening three minutes of the third quarter.
J-M didn’t get into double digits until the 3:09 mark in the third period, coming off of a made free throw from senior Eillia Wright, who was J-M’s leading scorer on the night with 8 points.
By then, it was a 43-10 game.
“I made it clear that this is a rivalry game and always has been,” Snipes said. “We went into the locker room at halftime and I said, ‘Coming out, it’s still 0-0.’ … They brought it tonight. The energy was there from the crowd and from the fans, so I just told them to play our game, be disciplined.”
Northwood’s victory marked the 16th-straight win for the Chargers in the series, dating back to the 2012-13 season, when Northwood (Elite Eight) and J-M (Final Four) both lost to Kinston in the 2A state playoffs.
The Chargers (4-0), who earned their fourth win in a 74-27 rout of conference foe Orange on Saturday, take the floor against Chapel Hill (2-2) on Tuesday on the road, followed by home games on Thursday and Saturday against East Chapel Hill (2-1) and Jordan-Matthews, respectively.
The Jets face Union Pines (3-2) on Friday before heading to Northwood on Saturday for the rematch and a chance to break the 16-game skid against the Chargers.
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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