The Lake Norman Charter girls' basketball team hoped to crash the 1A state tournament party and send a No. 1 seed home in the first round.
Since their conference, the Piedmont Athletic Conference, isn't recognized by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, the Knights entered the tournament as one of the lowest wildcard seeds, pitting them against East Wilkes, the top seed of the Mountain Valley conference.
But the Knights aren't your typical low seed. In their first year in the NCHSAA, the Knights have gone 19-3 with wins over 3A schools like Cox Mill, Mount Pleasant and Northwest Cabarrus. They won their conference tournament, then won their state tournament play-in game last Thursday against Roxboro Community School 69-20.
But the tough first round matchup ended the Knights run early, as they lost 74-53 to East Wilkes.
It's easy to overlook the Knights. They only have one junior on the team, Mary Dixon, who has been out with an injury almost the entire season. The starting lineup consists of three freshman (guards Maria Hoidas and Carolyn Huddy and forward Hannah Pleasant) and two sophomores (point guard Jamie Williams and forward Katie Fabian).
"We don't have quite the experience of teams that are older and more developed," said Williams.
But that doesn't bother them.
"We don't psych ourselves out," said Hoidas. "They're just players."
Coach Bobby Williams (Jamie Williams' father) started the team three years ago after the high school opened in 2007. The players on that first team were "not basketball players" said Bobby, and many of them quit after they went 3-8 that first year.
Last year the team went 16-4. Bobby hoped to build on last year's success and challenge the team more this year.
"We added some beef to our schedule this year and hope to add a little more next year," he said. Two of the team's losses this year came to East Lincoln, one of the top teams in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference. Bobby said that their guards were able to keep up with East Lincoln, but they had no answer for Lindsy Wright, one of the best post players in the area.
Next year, Bobby, who also coaches an area girls' AAU team, hopes the team will join the Southern Piedmont Conference. The school, which has 520 students, is chartered to have 750 students when it finally gets its first senior class next year. That size puts them right on the border of 1A/2A designation, making the mixed conference perfect for their school.
Plus, Bobby wants the tougher competition.
"Next year we'll be able to compete with East Lincoln," he said.
Bobby said he's already seen his team improve from the beginning of the season.
"They're soaking up the things that I'm throwing at them," said Bobby. "They're doing things they weren't doing at the beginning of the season."
Bobby said that Jamie, who is averaging more than 20 points per game, has been the leader of the team and many of his players look to her to lead, sometimes too much. His goal is to make all five girls on the court a threat to score.
"They're a great group of girls, and they want to learn the game," he said.
But even the players didn't expect to be this good at the beginning of the season.
"It came as a surprise," said Pleasant about the team's success this season.
Fabian was happy that the team won the conference tournament and had a chance to play in the state tournament.
"We got really close (to winning the conference) last year and didn't pull it off," she said.
All five of the starters emphasized that the team is like a family.
"We work together a lot," said Jamie. "We try to be a family."
"I think that's really helped us with the closeness (of the team on the court)," said Fabian.
Though he wants his team to be successful, Bobby knows that much of this year will be a learning experience, something that the young team can build on over the next couple years. Jamie is excited to see where this team can go in the future.
"We have two or three more years that we can build something, especially with how well we're playing now," she said.