After back-to-back N.C. Independent School 2A state titles, there’s no doubting the talent on the boys’ basketball team at Northside Christian Academy.
“Northside Christian eyes a third straight state title,” read one article published on the team’s chances this season.
Quietly, however – almost behind the scenes – another basketball program on the same campus has begun to make its own waves.
Northside Christian’s girls’ basketball team, led by first-year head coach Ashley McGuirt, has amassed an 8-0 to start this season.
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“Our goal is to bring all of our athletics up,” said Northside athletics director Shane Wallace. “When I got here, the boys’ program had achieved a lot, but that was about it. My goal here is to get all of our athletics at the boys’ level.”
McGuirt – who had been an assistant at Gaston Day – was brought on board a few months before Wallace took over as AD, but she’s proven to be a perfect fit.
“She has done an outstanding job,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t ask for much more as far as her leadership and her ability to teach character, while building the program.
“When I got here, I sat down with her and knew within a short time that I would have hired her, too.”
One of the first things Wallace did was change the way the basketball program at the school is viewed as a whole.
Out was the idea of separate boys’ and girls’ programs.
“The way we view basketball is that we’ve got one team that’s broken down into factions,” Wallace said. “We’ve tried to keep all our coaches close and make sure there’s lots of support throughout the program.”
“The boys’ coaches and my staff, we are all close and talk about everything that’s going on,” McGuirt said. “They are always trying to help the girls’ team, and we always stay for the boys’ games.”
One big reason for the Lady Knights’ success this season has been 6-foot-4 freshman center Eleah Parker.
As of Dec. 17, Parker was leading Mecklenburg County in both rebounds (20) and blocks (9.8) per game, while averaging just over 20 points per contest.
“(Parker) takes pride in defense and the blocks,” McGuirt said. “She is a very quick post player, and it allows us to really push the ball up the floor.”
On top of God-given athletic talent, Parker – who already has offers to play for East Carolina and Charlotte – is also very near the top of her class academically. That intelligence has helped her step into a prominent varsity roll without any setbacks.
“She’s transitioned to varsity with ease,” McGuirt said. “Her first game ever, she had a triple-double. It has been a smooth transition. I think Northside has been a perfect place for her.”
Fans of Northside Christian – long supportive of the boys’ program – have started to like what they’re seeing from this year’s girls’ program.
“We are getting better attendance,” Wallace said. “We are starting to really fill up the gymnasium for the girls. It was a problem last year; it hasn’t been one this year.
“They’re bringing spirit to Northside, and people are starting to get behind us and give us momentum, and it’s been exciting.”
At the beginning of the season, McGuirt told her team that each day when they get into the huddle, she wants them to be just a little bit better than they were the day before.
“In all honesty, I just want them to continue to stay on the path we are on, and what we achieve is up to them,” she said. “I think the potential is limitless, though.”