Junious Smith III: The five best turnarounds I've seen here
North Lenoir really started 5-0.
I knew the Hawks possessed too much talent to have another winless campaign, but to have a historic start one year after going 0-10 is nothing short of astounding. If anyone outside of The Swamp predicted this, I need you to run some Powerball numbers for me real quick.
North Lenoir’s turnaround actually had me thinking about a few other impressive shifts since I started covering sports in the area around 2015, so I started reminiscing.
These teams are in no particular order and if there are some teams you’d like to talk about, please leave a comment.
Bethel Christian soccer (2015)
The Motley Crue was truly that as the Trojans finally snapped a 47-game winless streak in 2014. A renaissance was the furthest from anyone’s mind, especially after Bethel Christian started the season 1-2-1. A four-game winning streak followed and when the dust cleared, the Trojans ended up with a 10-win season, including a second-round playoff appearance.
The Trojans were led offensively by Michael Fulcher, Jonathan Truett and Jared Hill while Nicholas Alston, Tristen Bayless and Josiah Barrow were among the defenders. Cole Williams was a strong goalkeeper and overall, it was a team who played like there was nothing to lose — and were dangerous doing it.
Jones Senior football (2015-16)
The Trojans’ program this decade is likened to the first line of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” — it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Jones Senior reached the NCHSAA 1A finals in 2011 before going a combined 4-30 over the next three seasons. Then, in 2015 and 2016 the team won six games each with second-round playoff entries. Players like A.J. Taylor, Adrian Knapp, Malik Black, Christian Doster, Rasheed Cox and the Brooks Brothers (Khadre, Malik and Zach) were among the reasons the team was strong on both sides of the ball.
On a personal note, Zach Frailey and I saw the Trojans warming up on the first day of practice in 2015. There were only 14 players out there and we immediately jumped on the Jones Senior bandwagon. Ironman football hasn’t been anything foreign in Trenton, and the Trojans have found ways to make great things happen in some years. Jones Senior coaches John Davis and Greg Hampton were amazing throughout.
Jones Senior basketball (2015-17)
Well, Zach and I were certainly going to stay on the bandwagon with basketball even after the Trojans went 4-20 during the 2014-15 campaign. Just like the football team, the basketball team made it to the second round of the state playoffs both years after impressive campaigns — Jones Senior went 19-9 in the 2015-16 season, then 18-10 a year later.
There was so much life in the team, especially with the Brooks Brothers and Janari Hill. Zach Brooks’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the 2017 Coastal Plains Conference tournament semifinals in a 55-54 win over Pamlico is a top-5 coverage moment in my career and the team went on to win in the finals over East Carteret. Hats off to Coach Tod Morgan during that two-year stretch.
Arendell Parrott girls’ basketball (2017-Present)
Simply put, the Patriots had issues putting the ball in the basket before the 2017-18 campaign — APA had just one game scoring more than 40 points over the previous two seasons. The Patriots hadn’t recorded a winning season in five years prior to, but a corner was turned led by Kim Siebert. The point guard not only helped the team see 11 games of 40 points or more, but a 15-8 campaign, including a second-round playoff appearance.
Last year, the Patriots had 10 games of 40 points or more and another second-round playoff appearance during an 11-12 season that would’ve been better had Virginia Edmondson not fallen victim to an early season-ending injury. Coach Kelly Johnson did a great job leading the team to another solid campaign and it’ll be interesting to see what transpires in 2019-20.
Ayden-Grifton volleyball (2016-present)
The seeds for Charger dominance were planted in 2015. After losing their first 13 games, the team went 5-2 to sneak into the playoffs, then finished second in the conference a year later, one game behind South Lenoir. As of Thursday’s victory over Kinston, the Chargers are 29-1 in EC2A play, 54-9 overall, have won two conference championships — the team’s first since 1976 — and a pair of fourth-round playoff appearances.
Players such as Jordan Cannon, Haley Davis and Zion Hardy played instrumental roles during the two conference-winning seasons, along with Alexia Bryant, Emily Dykes and Aale’Yah Garris, who are trying to pick up a third straight title this season. There’s no telling what the future holds in Little Hollywood, but the Chargers look to remain contenders in the conference.