NO. 6 SOUTH MECKLENBURG SABRES
Head Coach: Cristie Mitchell (7th year as South Mecklenburg coach).
2016-17 Record: 18-10 (10-4 in SoMeck8 Conference).
2017-18 Conference: SoMeck7 Conference.
Returning Starters (4): A’Lea Gilbert, Sr., F (6-0); Shariah Gaddy, Jr., G/F (5-11); Naomi Gilbert, Sr., PG (5-4); Jadin Gladden, Sr., G/F (5-10). Key Newcomers: Mya Olmeda, Fr., G (5-3); Aniyah Blair-Young, Jr., F (5-8).
Outlook: The Sabres return four starters and nine varsity players from 18-win team. With Appalachian State commit, A’Lea Gilbert (13.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg), leading a veteran team, South Mecklenburg has the experience and talent to challenge Ardrey Kell in the SoMeck7 conference and be a dangerous playoff matchup.
NO. 7 NORTH IREDELL RAIDERS
Head Coach: Roger Bumgarner (5th year as North Iredell basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 77-34.
2016-17 Record: 28-1 (14-0 to win the North Piedmont Conference title).
2017-18 Conference: North Piedmont Conference/3A.
Returning Starters (3): London Liles, Sr., G/F (6-0); Mackie Allen, Jr., G/F (5-11); Addie Pennell, Jr., PG (5-0).
Other Key Returnees: Rachel LaLonde, Jr., F (6-1); Shanese Grinton, Jr., G (5-0). Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: North Iredell was a perfect 28-0 last year, when their season came to abrupt halt in a 3rd round loss to Central Cabarrus. This year, the Raiders will start with plenty of motivation to repeat as North Piedmont conference champions. North Iredell has an experienced lineup, led by Liles, Allen, Pennell and LaLonde that won’t take anything for granted in the postseason as they look to make another deep playoff run.
NO. 8 HICKORY RED TORNADOES
Head Coach: Barbara Helms (14th year as Hickory basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 364-44 at Hickory; 439-81 overall.
2016-17 Record: 20-7 (9-5 in the Northwestern 3A/4A).
2017-18 Conference: Northwestern 3A/4A Conference.
Returning Starters (2): Shelby Darden, So., F/C (6-5); Makayla Hill, Jr., F (5-9). Key Newcomers: Finley Lefevers, Fr., F (5-11).
Outlook: Coach Barbara Helms consistently produces one of the best teams in the state as her Red Tornadoes have averaged 24 win per season in the last four years. Hickory will look to win big again as sophomore forward, Darden and junior forward, Hill, lead a team that hopes to win another Northwestern 3A/4A conference title and be a factor deep into the postseason in February or even March.
NO. 9 ROCK HILL BEARCATS
Head Coach: Kennan (Kenny) Orr (7th year as Rock Hill basketball coach)
Coaching Career Record: 95-56.
2016-17 Record: 20-5 (10-0 in S.C. Region IV, AAAAA).
2017-18 Conference: S.C. Region IV, AAAA
Returning Starters (4): RiKoya Anderson, Sr., SF (5-9); Jasona "Tee" Ballard, Sr., G/F (5-10); Makenna Thompson, Sr., G (5-5); Abriana Greene, Jr., F (5-7). Key Newcomers: Dynasty Pichardo, So., F (5-8); Jalen Armstrong, Jr., G (5-5); Ashley Crank, Jr., G (5-6); Amya Wise, So., F (5-10).
Outlook: Coach Kennan Orr returns a veteran team with eight seniors that have won 64 games in the last three years, spending time at No. 1 in the state in each of the last two seasons. Now, Rock Hill’s goal is to finish the season at No. 1 and they have the talent in seniors, Anderson (Region IV, AAAAA player of the year, 17 ppg, 10 rpg 3 spg), Ballard (10 ppg, 8 rpg) and Thompson (11 ppg) to be a region and state championship contender.
NO. 10 HOUGH HUSKIES
Head Coach: Jason Buzzard (2nd year as Hough basketball coach).
2016-17 Record: 23-6, 9-3 in the MECKA 4A Conference.
2017-18 Conference: I-Meck 4A Conference.
Returning Starters (2): Hailey Gipson, Sr., G (5-5); Renee Alquiza, Sr., F (6-1). Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: Hough has a one-two punch back in seniors Alquiza (15 ppg, 9 rpg) and Gipson (8 ppg, 5 rpg, Winston-Salem State commit) that few teams possess. But Coach Jason Buzzard and the Huskies will need some solid role players to emerge if they are going to stay in contention in the I-Meck 4A and be in position for another deep playoff run (3rd round last year).--JAY EDWARDS
NO. 11 EAST RUTHERFORD CAVALIERS
Head Coach: Larry Ross (16th year as East Rutherford basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 307-93.
2016-17 Record: 19-9 (12-4 in the South Mountain Athletic 2A/3A Conference).
2017-18 Conference: Southwestern 2A (SW2A) Conference.
Returning Starters (4): Osha Makerson, Jr., PG (5-6); Kendra Ross, Sr., PF (6-3); Charmee Miller, Sr., PF (6-1); Claire Jackson, Sr., C (6-1).
Other Key Returnees: Shyon Randolph, Sr., G (5-8); Brooklyn Henderson, Jr., G (5-11); Amarie Price, So., G (5-10). Key Newcomers: N/A.
Outlook: East Rutherford returns four starters from a 19-win team which makes them the favorite to win the new, SW2A conference. With experienced playmakers inside in Jackson (9 ppg, 8 rpg), Miller (11 ppg, 11 rpg), Ross (16 ppg, 12 rpg) and outside in Makerson (17 ppg), the Cavaliers have the talent to be a 2A state championship contender.--JAY EDWARDS
NO. 12 FREEDOM PATRIOTS
Head Coach: Amber Reddick (14th year as Freedom basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 285-86.
2016-17 Record: 29-2 (14-0 in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference).
2017-18 Conference: Northwestern 3A/4A Conference.
Returning Starters (3): Madison Bailey, Jr., G (5-9); Blaikley Crooks, So., G (5-8); Sierra (C.C.) Davenport, Jr. C (5-11). Key Newcomers: Amaiya Williams, Sr., G (5-9); Adair Garrison, Fr., F (5-10).
Outlook: The Patriots have won 20-plus games in each of the last nine seasons, and went 29-2 last year, falling in 3A state semifinals to Hickory Ridge. With 85 percent of their scoring graduated, it won’t be easy for Freedom to remain one of the state’s best with Coach Reddick missing beginning of the season as her daughter is due in early November. Freedom will look to its all-conference trio in Bailey, Crooks and Davenport to keep their winning streak going, contend for another conference title and again be a factor in late February, or even March.
NO. 13 EAST BURKE CAVALIERS
Head Coach: Crystal Bartlett (3rd year as East Burke basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 49-14 at East Burke.
2016-17 Record: 27-4 (15-1 in the South Mountain Athletic Conference).
2017-18 Conference: Northwest Foothills’ 2A Conference.
Returning Starters (3): Josie Hise, So., PG (5-7); Brooke Arney, Jr., G (5-6); Arianna Hawkins, Jr., G (5-7).
Key Newcomers: Riley Haas, So., F (5-11); Graleigh Hildebran, So., F (5-9); Ashlynn Stillwell, So., PG (5-5); Gracie Ruff, So., PG (5-3).
Outlook: The Cavaliers have won 49 games in the last two years, and also boast a 19-game home winning streak. With an experienced back court returning in Arney, Hawkins and Hise and a talented group of sophomores on the rise, coach Bartlett believes East Burke can challenge for the new, Northwest Foothills 2A conference title -- and more. Just how deep they can go in the postseason (2A state semifinalist last year) will depend on how their young front court emerges as the season progresses.
NO. 14 CUTHBERSON CAVALIERS
Head Coach: Joel Allen (10th year as Cuthbertson basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 95-86.
2016-17 Record: 18-9 (4-6 in the Southern Carolinas’ Conference (SCC)).
2017-18 Conference: Southern Carolinas’ Conference.
Returning Starters (4): Kayla Young, Jr., PG (5-6); Lauryn Hardiman, So., SF (5-7); Kaylin McKinney, Jr., SG (5-5); Lillian Anderson, So., C (5-11).
Key Newcomers: Maddie Dillinger, Fr., PF (6-0); Trinity Cherry-Brown, So., SF; Kamaria Sherriff, Fr., PF (5-9).
Outlook: The Cavaliers look to carry the momentum after winning the SCC tournament championship last season. Cuthbertson returns four starters, led by all-SCC performers in Hardiman (12 ppg, 8 rpg) and Young (9 ppg, 5 rpg), which should put them right in the thick of a league that got a lot harder with Charlotte Catholic, Monroe and Parkwood joining the race.
NO. 15 CLOVER BLUE EAGLES
Head Coach: Sherer Hopkins (17th year as Clover basketball coach)
2016-17 Record: 16-9, (5-3 in Region IV, 5A).
2017-18 Conference: Region IV, 5A.
Returning Starters (4): Renee Carter, Sr., G/F (5-9); Aylesha Wade, Fr., G (5-6); Amber Lipscomb, Sr., G (5-6); Tiona Walls, Jr., G (5-7).
Key Newcomers: None
Outlook: Coach Sherer Hopkins says "she has a great mix of veterans and younger players that love the game." Those returnees, which includes four starters, are back to a lead a Blue Eagle team that advanced to the AAAAA state quarterfinals last season. This season, Clover has the firepower led by all-region performers in Carter (11 ppg, 8 rpg) and Wade (12 ppg as an 8th grader) to battle Rock Hill for a region title and make another run.
NO. 16 CHARLOTTE LATIN HAWKS
Head Coach: Charisse Mapp (5th year as Charlotte Latin basketball coach).
Coaching Career Record: 54-49.
2016-17 Record: 12-14 (6-4 in the CISAA).
2017-18 Conference: CISAA.
Returning Starters (4): Claudia Dickey, Sr., PG (5-10); Kathryn Vandiver, Jr., F (6-1); Ruthie Jones, Jr., G/F (6-0); Grace Armstrong, Jr., G/F (5-9). Key Newcomers: Elizabeth Rose, Fr., G (5-10); Forrest Williams, Fr., G (5-9).
Outlook: Charlotte Latin have the talent to compete with the state’s best with four starters back, led by their big three in: Dickey (16 ppg), Jones (11 ppg) and Vandiver (16 ppg). Coach Mapp believes her team can contend for a CISAA title, but says "someone has to prove they can beat (eight-time, defending state state champion) Providence Day," before that happens. Either way, the Hawks have the team to be a contender deep in the state playoffs.