Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, Myers Park senior Morgan Uptegraff and her teammates will try to win their second N.C. 4A girls’ basketball state championship ring.
It was just two years ago that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials discovered a mistake in Uptegraff’s paperwork concerning her residency, and Uptegraff was forced to transfer to Myers Park.
She didn’t want to go.
“I’m not a fan of change,” said Uptegraff, whose team will play Southeast Raleigh in the N.C. 4A final in Chapel Hill. “I wasn’t thrilled about coming to Myers Park. They had a good team, and I had no idea if I would make the team.”
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Uptegraff, a 5-foot-9 small forward, played her freshman year at Providence High, where she was second on the team in scoring (10 points per game) and rebounding (5.3 per game).
Uptegraff was practicing with Providence a few weeks before her sophomore season in November 2012 when CMS officials discovered – during a routine eligibility check – that she wasn’t zoned for Providence.
She was not forced to sit out the season because the school system was in error, Uptegraff and Myers Park coach Barbara Nelson said.
However, the transition was tough for the teenager.
“She really didn’t want to be here her first year,” Nelson said. “You spend a year at another place and you have your friends, your team and your coach. She was established there.
“The change meant uncertainty, and it took her a little while to buy in here. I remember her first week of practice; she was looking at me like I had 15 heads.”
Uptegraff said going to Myers Park and especially playing for Nelson – a former college and USA Basketball national team coach – was difficult.
“It was a hard for me, simply because practices were so much different, so much more intense,” Uptegraff said. “The expectations everyone had were much higher. I remember, my first day was a Tuesday, and we had a 5 a.m. practice before my first class.
“I had heard (Nelson) had coached college and coached USA Basketball and I assumed she knew what she was talking about, but I had no idea if I’d like her.”
Nelson said she fell in love with Uptegraff’s hardworking attitude and leadership. Uptegraff came to appeciate Nelson’s drive and preparation, and soon enjoyed her new school, too.
“She’s so hard-nosed, hardworking,” Nelson said. “I call her a culture kid. She comes and establishes a culture with her work ethic and treatment of others on the team and her respect for coaches.’
Uptegraff’s first Myers Park team was 29-1 and lost in the third round of the playoffs. Last season, as a junior, Uptegraff and Myers Park finished 30-1 and beat Southeast Raleigh in the state final.
This season, on a team with All-Americans DD Rogers and Aliyah Mazyck, Uptegraff averages eight points and six rebounds for Myers Park (28-1), which is ranked No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 and No. 4 in USA Today’s national poll.
Saturday, Myers Park will try to become the fourth N.C. 4A team to repeat as state champion and the first 4A team from Mecklenburg County to do so. Charlotte’s Harding High won back-to-back 3A state championships in 2012 and 2013.
Uptegraff said she can hardly wait.
“It’s different than we went (to the finals) last year in the sense that we only have five returners on the team and seven new players,” she said. “The new people didn’t really understand the work and the time you have to put in to get to a level where you have to be to win.
“We’re trying to get them to understand that, especially now in the playoffs where it’s one and done and every game can be your last. But I think everybody’s excited for Saturday and to go up there and try to finish off the season with a win.
“ I think for our seniors, we want to leave that mark and have the memory of doing back-to-back state championships.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr