Cfa Academy and Northside Christian have been not-so-friendly foes in many sports over the years.
In the last several seasons, the basketball rivalry between the Metrolina Athletic 2A/3A Conference members has been especially intense.
On the boys’ side, Northside has risen to the top, claiming the last three private/independent schools 2A state titles. This year, an early-season victory by cfa Academy and a share of first place in the conference has given the Eagles reason to believe they are Northside’s equal, if not better.
The post-season may once again give the Eagles and the Knights the opportunity to battle for superiority on the conference and state levels. As of Jan. 26, cfa Academy had a 17-5 record and was 8-1 in the conference.
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Though they are enjoying a fine season in their own right, the Eagles girls also are behind Northside in terms of conference supremacy. They hope they are only a season away from overcoming their rival just as the boys team might be.
The cfa Academy and Northside boys’ teams have played each other in each of the last two state-championship games. Last year, the Eagles dropped an 87-68 decision to the Knights.
In 2013, cfa Academy fell 84-63.
In both of those seasons, the teams played four times, including twice in the regular season and once in the conference tournament. Until this season, cfa Academy had not defeated Northside since the 2010-11 season.
It is not unusual for cfa Academy to have drastic personnel changes from year to year, and this year, the Eagles’ key newcomers are senior guards Matt Wheet, D.J. Caldwell (both guards), and Voja Todorovic of Serbia.
Wheet attended cfa Academy in middle school and during his freshman year. He then transferred to Northwest Cabarrus where he played two seasons with his brother Andrew, who also was an exceptional high school player.
Wheet, who averages 16 points per game, is an intense player with a sweet jump shot. He’s capable of knocking in a 3-pointer from anywhere on the offensive side of the court, as can Caldwell (10 points per game), a transfer from Mallard Creek.
Among cfa Academy’s few veterans this year are senior Charles Minlend, an athletic guard who can score from anywhere, and junior Nico Payne, the Eagles’ best post player.
Minlend, a college Division I recruit, averages 25 points per game, while Payne averages a double-double (10 ppg and 10 rebounds).
“It’s a totally different team,” said coach Frank Cantadore. “Last year I think we ran the ball more. This year, we’re definitely shooting more threes. I have more shooters this year than last year.
“Last year we were a little bigger at the wing spot. We’re not able to give as much pressure on the wings (this season). Things are starting to click with this team.”
Things clicked well enough Dec. 9, when the Eagles won at Northside, 58-55. The Knights, however, won the rematch at cfa Academy on Jan. 20, 70-66.
The cfa Academy girls weren’t as fortunate as the boys; Northside swept both regular-season games by double-digit margins.
As of Jan. 26, the Eagles girls’ team was 15-4 overall and 5-2 in the conference. Last year, cfa Academy finished 21-5 and lost in the state semifinals to Carolina Day School, the eventual state champion.
Just like the boys, the girls’ team has been affected by transfers, including one who returned to cfa Academy this season. Sophomore Zaria Wright started for the Eagles as a seventh- and eighth-grader and made all state in 2012-13.
Wright transferred to Mallard Creek for her freshman season “to try something different,” she said, but transferred back to cfa Academy before this season. Including a 46-point effort against Northside two weeks ago, Wright averages more than 17 points per game.
Raven Mobley (7.7 ppg) transferred from Central Cabarrus, and Ramesha Bennett (10.3 ppg) came in from Northwest Cabarrus. Both are seniors. Sophomore Elanna Peay (9.3 rebounds per game) also played previously at Central.
The Metrolina Athletic Conference tournament is scheduled for Feb. 10-13. The state tournament is set for Feb. 17-21.