A year ago, Lake Norman and Hopewell were among the top teams in the state for most of the season. Both matchups between the Titans and the Wildcats came down to the final couple of possessions.
Hopewell came out on top both times - by three points at home and four points at Lake Norman - and went on to take the regular-season I-Meck championship.
The Titans went 25-2 on the season but were upset in the second round of the playoffs by Myers Park. Meanwhile, Lake Norman, 26-3, ended up getting the last laugh, as the Wildcats won 13 of their last 14 games, capped by a 4A state championship.
But less than 12 months later, both rosters look different.
Hopewell looks to former role-players Elliott Pope and Michael Russell to be the leaders of a young team led by first-year coach Damon Bost.
Lake Norman will build around senior guard/forward Brian Whalen, the only returning starter from last season's state championship team.
"Last year it was the best conference in the state, by far," said Jolly earlier this season. "The landscape of the whole conference will be different, but I still think there's going to be a lot of basketball played."
Lake Norman (5-1)
The party is finally over for Lake Norman, after an offseason of celebrating its first state championship. Now Jolly and company get back to work with a younger, but hungry, Wildcat team.
Whalen has begun the transformation from defensive stopper and role player to lead scorer. Whalen will need help once league play begins and should get it from a variety of sources. Senior Chris Patterson, the sixth-man on last year's team, is also expected to step up, while seniors Luke Smith and Austin Eisenhofer will also play key roles.
Lake Norman has gotten off to a good start, defeating its Iredell County rivals North Iredell, South Iredell, Statesville and West Iredell. The Wildcats were 5-1 going into Friday's I-Meck opener at North Meck.
Lake Norman and Hopewell are in a similar place right now, still searching for their identities as young teams.
Expect a tight game that likely will be decided by who makes the fewest turnovers and mistakes in the fourth quarter.
The Titans have been one of the best teams in the state for the last two years, going 52-4 in that time.
But now the Titans' role players and guys who have spent most of the time watching from the bench or on the JV team must step into lead roles.
Russell, also a star on the football and baseball teams at Hopewell, is one of the most important players, as he is being expected to run the offense.
Russell will be joined by seniors Chris Beam and Cameron Burney and junior Tyrone Curry in a backcourt that has a lot of potential but at the same time a lot to prove.
The Titan frontcourt is in a similar position, as Pope has experience as role player off the bench but now is being counted on for consistent double-figure scoring.
Pope will look to Daron Curry, Tyrone's brother, as well as senior Dekwinte Finney and junior Darius Smalls for support inside.
Hopewell already has had to endure some growing pains in the early season, losing a close game to Myers Park and by 21 points to 3A state runner-up Concord. Hopewell was 2-2 going into Friday's game against West Charlotte.
Expect the Titans to begin to discover themselves as a team once I-Meck play begins.
The team that wins this game will have a lot of momentum going into the first round of league play.
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer for Mooresville News. Have a story idea for Jay? E-mail him at email@example.com.