1. Cox Mill Volleyball: The Cox Mill volleyball team had a season for the ages last year, going a perfect 34-0 on their way to a 3A state championship.
This season with 10 players returning from a dominant team (won 97 of 102 sets last year) it’s hard to not pick the Chargers to repeat. They are led by 3A state championship MVP and reigning Charlotte Observer player of the year senior Taylor Rowland (Auburn commit, 532 kills last year). Also back are three Division I recruited seniors: Courtney Weber, Lauren Phillips and Allison Siersma. So the Chargers have many reasons to believe they repeat in 2017.
2. Ardrey Kell vs. Providence Volleyball Rivalry: In one of the state’s best rivalries there is much more than bragging rights on the line every time they play. The teams share six state titles.
This year, Ardrey Kell is led by seniors Sylvia Duggan (College of Charleston commit) and Morgan Hanchard; Providence by senior Ashley Cruise (Marist College commit) and junior Carly Peck. As usual, the teams will do battle for SoMeck7 conference supremacy as both look to contend deep into the 4A state playoffs.
3. Skyy Howard, Mallard Creek Volleyball: The 6-foot-3, junior middle hitter (University of North Carolina commit, had 385 kills last season) helped lead the Mavericks to a school record 24-5 record (3rd round, 4A playoffs) in 2016, winning first conference volleyball title in school history.
This season, Mallard Creek coach David Brooks believe they can be even better with a veteran lineup and Porter Ridge transfer, Morgan Allen (led state with 122 aces last year)
4. Jenna Thompson, South Mecklenburg Girls’ Tennis: The South Mecklenburg sophomore had a dream season in her freshman year, going 23-0 singles’ play without losing a set on her way to the (4A state singles’) title.
Thompson, the No. 1 player in the state in the class of 2020 according to tennisrecruiting.net, looks to be perfect again in 2017.
5. Olivia Archer, Lake Norman Charter Girls’ Tennis: The Lake Norman Charter senior had a monster summer, winning the N.C. state championship (beating Thompson in final), advancing to the round of 16 at the Southern Regional championships (Mobile, AL), while training against international competition at the (Chris) Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, FL this month.
Now, the Elon University commit hopes to cap her historic high school career (103-1 in Lake Norman Charter singles’ career) with her second straight N.C. 2A state singles’ title, while also helping Lake Norman Charter team (that has 51 straight matches) to its fourth straight state championship.
6. Kate Earnhardt, Concord Girls’ Tennis: The Concord senior is undefeated in her high school singles’ career. Fresh off a New Balance National Championship in California this summer, Earnhardt (Appalachian State commit) is swinging to finish her Spiders’ career with back-to-back 3A state singles’ championships.
7. Charlotte Country Day, Marvin Ridge and Myers Park Girls’ Tennis Teams: The Charlotte Country Day, Marvin Ridge and Myers Park girls’ tennis teams all believe they can make another championship run this season after dominating their competition in 2016.
The Myers Park girls (21-0 last year) look to win their second straight 4A title, while Marvin Ridge (16-0) goes for its 3rd straight 3A crown and Charlotte Country Day (17-1) is playing for its 5th consecutive, NCISAA 3A state championship.
8. Cannon School Girls’ Golf: The Cannon School girls’ golf team continued their dominance last year, winning their fifth NCISAA state title in the last six years by nine shots.
But Cougars’ coach, Pat Whisenant, believes "he has the best team he’s ever had," this season with juniors, Muskan Uppal (University of Richmond commit), Elena Jacoby and sophomore, Sophie Holland (major D-I recruit including Wake Forest) back.
But their best player could be incoming freshman Amanda Sambach, who is already a University of Virginia commit before her first high school match.
9. Parker Melting, Independence Girls’ Golf: The Independence senior is one of the most unique athletes in the area as she will represent the Patriots as a one-woman team for the fourth consecutive year.
Melting (UNC Pembroke commit) looks to finish her Independence golf at her best this season after winning the Pinecrest Invitational, earning SW4A conference runner-up and ninth at the N.C. 4A West Regional as a junior.
10. Matt Ranshaw, Marvin Ridge Soccer: The Marvin Ridge senior center defender/midfielder leads a veteran team with eight starters back in the lineup for the defending 3A state champions (24-1-1).
Ranshaw, who is on the All-American watch list (Charlotte 49ers’ interest), is one of eight Mavericks seniors, including standouts Matt Winesette and Hayden Green, looking to go out on top with back-to-back state titles.
11. A.J. Whisenant, Hough Soccer: The Hough all-state forward is part of an experienced Husky team with five starters and 14 seniors returning for a squad with a lot of motivation after a 2-1, 4A state semifinal loss to Porter Ridge ended their season.
Whisenant, also on the All-American watch list, will be a major player (24 goals last, 59 career goals) in helping Hough to be a 4A state contender.
12. Myles Lloyd, Mallard Creek Soccer/Football and Julio Rangel, Porter Ridge Soccer: Two of Observer area’s best goalkeepers hope to be game changers for their teams again this season.
Lloyd doubles as the Mavericks’ goalkeeper (three-year starter, Division I recruit) and the starting punter for the Mallard Creek football team with state championship aspirations.
Rangel looks to keep the reigning 4A state runner-up Pirates in contention after recording 19 shutouts a year ago.
13. Megan Frost, Myers Park Field Hockey: Megan Frost helped rewrite the school record books at Myers Park last year, as the All-American poured in 33 goals and dished out 21 assists (both school records) to help the Mustangs (18-1) to their first NCFHA state championship ever.
This year, the Stanford University commit looks to add to her championship resume as she hopes to lead Myers Park to back-to-back state titles, before trying out for the U.S. National Field Hockey team in December.
14. Charlotte Latin vs. Providence Day Field Hockey: Providence Day and Charlotte Latin played in an epic state championship match to end last season, with Latin winning a double overtime thriller, 2-1.
The Chargers are using that loss as motivation going as coach Miki Osherow returns eight seniors, led by all-state performers Chloe Appleby (Davidson College commit), Grayson Buben (Davidson College commit), Laney Diehl and Emma Goldean (Ohio State commit).
Charlotte Latin wants to stay on top, and has the talent to do with seniors Caroline Barlogh (Wake Forest commit), Kennedy Fertitta (Ohio State commit) and Cecilia Monnin looking finish their careers with a three-peat.
15. Mariah Howlett, Lake Norman Charter Girls’ Cross Country: The Lake Norman Charter senior won nearly everything she ran in last season, including the 2A state outdoor 1600 and 3200-meter state titles.
But one win that has eluded Howlett (a major, Division I recruit) to date – a 2A state cross country championship -- and that will be her main goal this fall as she also looks to help her Knights’ team run to a state title.
16. Noah Dolhare, Providence Day Cross Country: The Providence Day senior ran the Observer area’s second-best, 5,000-meter (5K) time last season in 15:56.20 at Nike Cross Nationals, but finished 3rd at states (championship meet) for the second straight season.
In his final season in a Charger uniform, the two-time defending CISAA conference (cross country) champion wants to finish his cross country career with a state title run.