The first season of the all Cabarrus County basketball league is nearly at the midway point. Already, the South Piedmont conference (SPC) is a three-horse race with Concord, Hickory Ridge and Jay M. Robinson having clearly separated from the rest of the pack.
This week, two big games will decide who will have the upper-hand going into the second half of the season. The first is tonight when Concord (9-5, 4-0 through Jan. 14) visits Hickory Ridge (11-4, 5-1) and the second is Friday when Jay M. Robinson (11-0, 6-0) travels to A.L. Brown (5-4, 1-3 through Jan. 14).
Concord has been on the top of the SPC for the last two seasons going 58-7 in that span. But Jay M. Robinson, a former 4A and ME-CA 7 contender, and a rapidly improving Hickory Ridge squad will challenge the Spiders for the SPC crown.
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The Spiders are used to dominating in the SPC, where they are 34-2 over the past two seasons and this one, so far. Senior guard Nyshia Hammonds, who has signed with Charlotte, does everything well and will control the game for the Spiders with Jhemelia Edwards by her side. Concord has also gotten a big boast from Jatzmin Johnson, who returned from a torn ACL last month. Johnson, at 6-foot-2, gives the Spiders a legitimate post-presence.
The Spiders, who still have five players left from the 2008 state championship team, are not short on talent or experience but will be challenged in the newly-organized SPC this year.
The Ragin' Bulls have shown steady improvement in the past few years, going from a .500 team to one of the top teams in the SPC.
This year has been even better, and at 11-4 overall, 5-1 in conference play, this could be the year they win their first conference title. Guards Akysia Resper and Jordan Strode form a nice combination of scoring and ball-handling in the backcourt while Candra Mathis is the Bulls' top option inside.
Hickory Ridge knocked off Concord convincingly 72-58 at home last year, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them do it again. But the Spiders, who are not used to losing, won't forget their loss last season.
Jay M. Robinson
The Bulldogs were one of the better teams in the 4A ME-CA 7, one of the best conferences in the state last year with the likes of West Charlotte, Hopewell and North Mecklenburg.
Now, Robinson is off to a perfect start (11-0, 6-0) in 3A, mainly because of their top two players, Tabby Koerner and Kelsee Cheek. Koerner, who has committed to Gardner Webb, is a major weapon at 6-foot-1 and averages a double-double (points and rebounds). Cheek, the first 1,000-point scorer in Robinson girls' basketball history, can score with the best of them.
The Bulldogs have already beaten A.L. Brown twice this year by 15 and 21 points, and this meeting shouldn't be any different.
The Wonders are capable of competing with top tier of the SPC, as evidence by their 40-32 loss to Hickory Ridge, less than two weeks ago.
In freshman point guard Aaliyah Spears, they may have one of the better players in the SPC for years to come. But like Spears, the Wonders are still young overall and will be tested in the next two weeks by the top of the SPC including Robinson on Friday night.
How much this young team can grow and learn in the stretch run of this season could be as important as what reads on the scoreboard.