The high school fall sports season officially kicks off Monday, Aug. 13, and the Observer will feature its “Sweet 16” for the season.
These are 16 athletes are teams to watch in the newspaper’s coverage area.
No. 1 C Van Than, Independence soccer, Sr.
Eight years ago, Than and his family -- parents, Cm Than Uk and Lung Mawii; sisters, Van Sui Par and Van Sui -- made a journey that took more than a year from Burma then to Malaysia and finally ending up in Charlotte.
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Than, who was in fourth grade, and his family didn’t know much about life in the United States, and they didn’t speak English.
“At first, life here (in United States) was really tough, and it was a huge adjustment for all of us, because everything was new to us, everything here was so different,” said Than, who also has two younger brothers now, Joseph and Jacob. “Soccer really helped me a lot. I started playing rec soccer not long after I got here. Soccer has opened a lot of doors for me and taken me a lot of places since then.”
Than made the Independence varsity team as a freshman, scoring one goal. He emerged as a key player for Independence as a sophomore, scoring 11 goals and dishing out eight assists.
Than had his breakout season as a junior last year, scoring a school-record 32 goals (previous record was 22), helping Independence to 14-9 record, including a first round playoff victory at arch-rival Butler. Than had eight games with two goals, two with three goals, plus a four-goal game against Forest Hills and a five-goal game against Hopewell last year.
“Last year (for Independence) really was an amazing season,” Than said. “I didn’t expect to score that much. But as a striker, my job is also to score goals. But my main goal is just to help this team win games. This soccer team (Independence) is like my family.”
Than will have a lot of support this season on an experienced Independence team that also features senior midfielders Chase Davis and Nigel Johnson, junior center back, Van Lian and sophomore midfielder, David Martinez.
“C Van has made a huge progression from his freshman to his senior year,” said coach Gibson, whose 2018 Independence team features players from seven different countries. “I’d be surprised if he scored more this year. But he’s going to find a way to score his goals and find opportunities for his teammates. C Van is such a good player we’ve actually had to tell him to be more selfish.”
While Than is focused on being at his best as a senior on the soccer field, where he has received interest from schools like Belmont Abbey, he’s also pursuing his future and his dreams off the field.
“I’ve wanted to be an engineer ever since I was a little kid,” said Than, who is in the Academy of Engineering program at Independence. “I’ve also wanted to be a soccer player since I was a kid. It would be great if I could go to college and study engineering and play soccer. My dream would be able to do both at (UNC) Charlotte.”
No. 2 Ryan Cowie, Hough Soccer, Sr.
The all-region, all-conference performer showed his versatility as he played center back (and still scored six goals and had eight assists) on a Husky team that went 24-2 overall and made their first appearance in the 4A state championship game (4A state runner-up).
Cowie will likely slide back to his offensive role in the midfield or forward position, where he looks to be a key piece to a Hough team with nine returnees eager to win their eighth straight conference title, defend their 4A West Region crown and prove they can be state contenders, again, in 2018.
Cowie is following in the footsteps of his older sister, Emmily, a former all-state Hough soccer player, now a senior at Appalachian State.
No. 3 Matthew Rank, Providence soccer, Sr.
The Providence sweeper was a major part of a suffocating Panthers’ defense that allowed a school-record one goal in conference play and their first three playoff games combined.
But Providence (21-1-3) allowed four goals to Hough in 4A state semifinal game that Rank missed with an injury, giving the Panthers’ their first loss of the season in a big moment.
This year, Rank (Charlotte Soccer Gala’s defensive player of the year) and his Providence team will have plenty of motivation to prove they belong amongst the best 4A teams in the state, again.
No. 4 Chase and Logan Gilley, East Lincoln soccer, Jrs.
In 2016, the entire East Lincoln soccer team scored 22 goals and had 14 assists on a team that went 8-12-2 overall.
Last year, Mustangs’ sophomore twin brothers, Chase and Logan Gilley combined for 39 goals and 25 assists together as the duo led East Lincoln to a 14-9 record on a squad that had 78 goals on 55 assists.
Chase Gilley, a central midfielder, had 28 goals and 12 assists. Logan Gilley, an attacking center midfielder, scored a single-season and school-record 11 goals to go with 13 assists last season.
The Gilley brothers both following in the footsteps of their older sister, Sierra Gilley, who finished her East Lincoln High School career with 57 goals and a school-record 47 assists.
No. 5 Sophie Fischer, Fort Mill Nation Ford volleyball, Jr.
The 6-foot-4, Nation Ford middle blocker had a breakout sophomore season with 580 kills, 85 blocks and 51 aces last year for a Falcons’ team (27-14-2) that advanced to the S.C. AAAAA quarterfinals.
This summer, Fischer played for the USA Volleyball A1 High Performance team. Fisher, who committed to North Carolina, looks to be even better this season as vies for the Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina.
No. 6 Charlotte Catholic vs. Marvin Ridge Volleyball
The Charlotte Catholic and Marvin Ridge volleyball teams have both played in the the South Carolinas’ conference (SCC) for just one season.
But both teams have established themselves as state powers and bitter rivals.
The Cougars (21-6, 13-1 last season) advanced to second round of N.C. 3A playoffs. Marvin Ridge (28-2, 13-1) split the regular-season title with Catholic and won the league tournament title.
This year, Charlotte Catholic and Marvin Ridge will not only be battling for SCC bragging rights, but also look to prove they can be 3A state contenders.
Marvin Ridge will be led by senior setter and four-year starter Adriana Jordan. Jordan had 1,008 assists last year and has 2,735 assists in her high school career.
Catholic will be led by 6-foot-2, senior, middle/outsider hitter, Emma Ellis (Purdue commit), a four-year starter who had 321 kills, 56 aces, 50 blocks and 222 digs last season.
No. 7 Skyy Howard, Mallard Creek volleyball, Sr.
The Mallard Creek volleyball team had enjoyed only one winning season in their program’s history before Skyy Howard joined the team in 2015.
In the three years with Howard in the lineup, Mallard Creek has won 67 games, including a trip to the 4A state quarterfinals last year.
The 6-foot-3, middle blocker and UNC recruit hopes to be at her best in her final high school season. The reigning I-Meck 4A conference player of the year looks to add to her already impressive resume on (1,043 kills, 104 blocks in her Mallard Creek career) the court.
No. 8 Concord Cannon girls golf
The Cannon School girls’ golf team repeated as NCISAA state champions last year in convincing fashion, winning by 19 shots. This year, the Cougars’ lineup is loaded again as the top six players could all play college golf, according to Coach Pat Whisenant.
Cannon will be led by senior, Muskan Uppal (University of Richmond commit), junior Sophie Holland (major Division I recruit) and sophomore Amanda Sambach (University of Virginia commit).
Seniors, Elena Jacoby and Mirabella Calabrase and sophomore Molly Morrison will also play big roles on a team looking to three-peat, which also be their sixth, NCISAA state title in the last seven years.
No. 9 Megan Frost, Myers Park field hockey, Sr.
The Myers Park senior has rewritten the Mustang field hockey record book with 76 goals and 54 assists in her high school career.
This year, the three-time all-state and NFHCA All-American looks to close her career by helping Myers Park to a third straight state championship.
Frost, who is on the U17 U.S. National field hockey team, is taking her talents to Stanford University next year.
No. 10 Caroline Juckett, Myah Pease, Sutton Orndoff, Charlotte Latin Field Hockey Seniors
The Charlotte Latin all-state trio is back to try to help lead the Hawks’ 2019 senior class to a fouth straight, NCISAA state championship.
Juckett (24 goals last year) will lead the attack, while Pease (Dartmouth College commit) directs the midfield and Orndoff (University of Richmond commit) anchors the defense for a team that hasn’t lost a game since 2015 and is 50-3-1 in the last four years.
No. 11 Jenna Thompson, South Mecklenburg tennis, Jr.
The South Mecklenburg standout still hasn’t lost a singles’ match in her high school career with back-to-back N.C. 4A state singles’ titles.
Thompson is one also one of the best junior players in the country, as she is currently ranked No. 1 in the state (class of 2020), No. 8 in the Southeast and No. 23 nationally by tennisrecruiting.com. Thompson looks to be perfect again in 2018 in her pursuit of a three-peat.
No. 12 Rose Kenny, Charlotte Catholic tennis, Jr.
Charlotte Catholic’s No. 1 singles player and defending 3A state singles’ champion is back to lead the defending 3A state champion Cougars.
Kenny, a junior, is 70-8 overall in her Charlotte Catholic tennis career with the Cougars’ team going 44-4 in that same span.
No. 13 Katie Weber, Myers Park tennis, Jr.
The Myers Park No. 1 followed in her older sister Maddie Weber’s footsteps, earning the No. 1 singles’ spot as a sophomore (Maddie was No. 1 as a senior in 2016). Katie was 26-4 overall (14-2 singles, 12-2 doubles) winning the SW4A singles’ title, with 4A West Region runner-up and a 4A state quarterfinals’ finish.
Weber is back to lead a dominant Mustangs’ team that is 77-3 in the last four years with one state championship (4A, 2016) and three state runner-ups in that span (2014, 2015, 2017).
Myers Park has the experience and talent with Weber, senior, Emily Holderness, junior Halle Futch and sophomore, Elyse Duley back in the lineup, to be 4A state contenders again in 2018.
No. 14 Kyle Durham, Weddington cross-country, Sr.
The Weddington senior is one of the most versatile runners in the state, as he is amongst the top 3A returnees from 800-meter run to the 5,000-meter and in every distance in between.
Durham looks to contend for a 3A state cross country title this season after winning the 800, 4 X 400 and 4 X 800-relay state championships last spring. Durham is part of a stacked Weddington team with seniors Stephen Larson, Will Mazur, Jackson O’Hara, and junior Jake Toomey (all with personal-best under 16:20).
No. 15 Christian Landis, Providence Day cross-country, Soph.
The Providence Day sophomore looks to keep his momentum going after “probably the best freshmen year in Mecklenburg County history,” according to longtime Chargers’ coach, Ben Hovis.
Landis ran a Providence Day freshman record 16:07 (to finish sixth at NCISAA 3A state meet), also winning the Foot Locker South Regional freshmen race and the New Balance Nationals’ freshmen two-mile run in June.
This year, Landis looks help a loaded Charger team, including juniors Adam Habas, Jason Krell and Andrew Riolo, run to their 19th straight CISAA conference title and 10th state championship in the last 14 years.
No. 16 Katie Pou, Fort Mill Nation Ford cross-country, Soph
The Nation Ford standout won the S.C. AAAAA individual state championship by 19 seconds as a freshman.
Pou, who ran a personal-best 18:05.45 to win the Region IV, AAAAA title, went unbeaten last cross country season winning all 10 races she competed in, including the Wendy’s Invitational (Girls’ open race).
This year, Pou looks to be even faster, in pursuit of back-to-back state crowns.