Prep Insider Blog

Winter Sports Unsung Heroes 12.07.18

Ardrey Kell High’s Luke Stankavage
Ardrey Kell High’s Luke Stankavage Special to the Observer

Charlotte Observer Boys’ Athletes of the Week

Luke Stankavage, Ardrey Kell Basketball: Luke Stankavage was in the midst of a strong freshman year for the Providence Day varsity basketball team two years ago (2016-17), when the unthinkable happened.

Stankavage was going up for a pre-game, warm-up line layup in a tournament game at Montverde Academy in Florida when he came down on his right knee wrong. He immediately knew he was injured.

Stankavage had torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in that late January 2017 game just before the state playoffs and would be done for the season, the summer and into the next fall.

“It was really tough to have to sit and watch my teammates in the playoffs, that summer, in AAU and even into the preseason (next fall),” Stankavage said. “But looking back, I think that injury (ACL tear) really taught me a lot about how to overcome adversity. Not playing basketball for nine months, I also completely learned to appreciate the game (basketball) so much more.”

Stankavage decided to transfer to Ardrey Kell in the offseason, but still had to sit and watch his future teammates in summer camps, workouts and into the preseason workouts in the fall.

Ardrey Kell coach Michael Craft knew how tough that time was for Stankavage.

“I think it was one of the hardest things he (Luke) has ever been through in his life,” Craft said. “The mental aspect alone was really tough because even when he was released right before the season (2017-18) he was still rubbing his knee a lot even in the games. We would play in four minutes bursts to not try to over work him.”

Stankavage has a solid start to his sophomore season at Ardrey Kell last year, but admits he was tentative at first because he didn’t want to re-injure his right knee.

Stankavage and Craft even made the decision to have him sit out the Ashbrook Holiday Hoopsfest tournament because it would have been three games in three days. He also sat out the first game after Christmas break against Hopewell.

“Sitting out those four games really helped get refreshed and refocused,” Stankavage said. “I told myself I was the same player I was before injury, but I’m not sure if I really believed it. I think that little break helped get back to where I was before.”

“When he (Luke) came back (after Christmas break), he was a different player,” Coach Craft recalls. “He was doing things we really hadn’t seen before like driving to the basket, drawing fouls and just playing all out.

…Mentally, he had to jump over that hurdle and boy when he did, watch out!”

Stankavage averaged 8.3 points per game in his first 11 games of his sophomore year.

After he returned from his four-game break, Stankavage averaged 15.1 points per game over the final 14 games of the season.

Stankavage was at his best in the playoffs, averaging 23.3 points per contest in three postseason games, including 25 points in a second round win over Grimsley and 31 points in the Knights’ third round loss to eventual 4A state champion Independence.

“Once last season ended, I was already looking forward to this year because I knew we (Ardrey Kell) would have a good team losing only two seniors,” Stankavage said.

After a strong summer, Stankavage and his Ardrey Kell team have picked up right where they left off, beating Weddington, Providence Day, Hough and Myers Park to open this season 4-0 (through Nov. 29 game).

Stankavage, now 6-foot-3 (6-foot-1 last year), has also gotten off to a hot start, averaging 21 points, three rebounds, four steals and two assists per game as he shifted from shooting guard to the starting point guard.

The Ardrey Kell junior guard had 19 points and six steals in the season-opening win over Weddington, 26 points and seven rebounds in a victory over his former team, Providence Day, in the Charlotte Hoops’ Challenge at Berry, Nov. 23.

This past week, Stankavage had 13 points in a 49-47 win over Hough (Nov. 27) and a season-high 27 points, five steals and four rebounds in another tight, 64-61 victory at Myers Park, Nov. 29.

“We told Luke he was going to playing point guard and he loves the position because he likes to have the ball in his hands and he’s on the attack all of the time,” Craft said. “…He’s really stepped up his game this year and he’s the engine that drives us.

…It’s been fun to watch him really transform his game over the last two years.”

If you think Stankavage is content with his success, think again.

The Ardrey Kell junior admits he is “a basketball junkie,” that cannot get enough of the game.

Stankavage says he like to get 200 to 300 shots up per day on a day when Ardrey Kell has a game or practice.

On a day off or a weekend day, he will often get 400 to 500 shots up.

Stankavage says he often argues with Coach Craft about getting into the gym.

“I have to argue with Coach (Craft) sometimes in a call or a text because I always want to be in the gym shooting,” Stankavage said. “…I like to shoot at 5:30 in the morning before school. I just love the game.”

Stankavage’s passion for the game and athletic ability is not unusual in his family. His father, Bruce, was a four-year starter at Lafayette College, while his mother, Liz, starred for both the Lafayette field hockey and lacrosse teams and is now in the school’s hall of fame.

Scott Stankavage, his uncle, was also a former quarterback at the University of North Carolina, with his cousin (Scott’s son), Shawn Stankavage, now the starting quarterback at Rice University.

Luke Stankavage also hopes to play basketball at the next level and is already being recruited by Elon, UNC Wilmington, Wofford, Princeton, Yale and Lipscomb, according to Coach Craft.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I picked up a basketball (four years old) to play college basketball and hopefully it’s a reality soon,” Stankavage said. “I’m working on my game now like I’ve never worked before.”

While Stankavage is excited about his future on the basketball, he is also squarely focused on the task at hand this season at Ardrey Kell.

Stankavage is part of a veteran, Knights’ team, including seniors Kameron Flynn, Royce Jarrett, Christian Pickens and Stephen Sherrill that won 23 games last year but are hungry for more.

“I think this team is playing with something to prove, I’m playing with something to prove, and we all want to prove that Ardrey Kell can compete with the best teams in the state,” Stankavage said. “We want to do something that no Ardrey Kell team has done before and bring home a state championship for Coach Craft.

…That’s our goal and that’s what we are playing for right now.”

Raquan Brown, Butler Basketball: The Bulldogs’ senior guard scored a career-high 29 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead Butler to a 97-56 rout of Mallard Creek Nov. 29.

Brown also had 22 points and seven rebounds in a 60-43 win over South Mecklenburg, Nov. 27.

Brown is averaging 24.7 points, seven rebounds and three assists for Butler (3-0) this season.

Jah’Quez Sanders, Queens Grant Basketball: The Queens Grant senior led the Stallions to the Bulldog Classic title at Wake Christian Academy, earning the tournament’s most valuable player (MVP) honors for his efforts, Nov. 30 to Dec. 1.

Sanders averaged 23 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists in the two games, victories over Wake Christian in the semifinals, Nov. 30 and Cary Christian in the championship game, Dec. 1.

Queens Grant (5-1) has won five straight games after a season-opening loss at Charlotte Country Day.

Mason High, Maiden Basketball: The Blue Devils’ senior shooting guard is off to a hot start, averaging 24 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals per game to help Maiden to a 2-0 start.

High had 28 points in the season-opening 82-51 at Bunker Hill, where he went 7-for-11 from the three-point line.

High is 13-for-21 from beyond the arc (62 percent) this season.

Jermaine Daye, Draughn Basketball: The 6-foot-5 senior became the first Draughn boys’ basketball player to score 1,000 points in his career when he scored 18 points in a 78-53 win over West Lincoln, Nov. 27.

Daye is averaging 18.3 points per game to help the Wildcats to a 3-0 start this season.

Ben Dusek Special to the Observer

Demetrius Martin, East Mecklenburg Basketball: The Eagles’ senior guard averaged 18.5 points and three rebounds per game to lead East Mecklenburg to wins over Providence and South Mecklenburg last week.

Martin’s best game of the week came in a narrow 57-53 victory at South Mecklenburg, where he scored 20 points, grabbed three rebounds and three steals.

Martin is averaging 20 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals per game for East Mecklenburg (3-1) this season.

Miles Pauldin, Independence Swimming/Basketball: The Patriots’ senior doubles as a key player for both the Independence swimming and basketball teams this season.

Pauldin won two individual events (50 free, 100 backstroke) and helped two relay teams (200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay) to wins in the meet against Providence, Nov. 29.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound forward also plays a key role on the defending, 4A state championship, Independence basketball team. Pauldin averages three points and four rebounds per game for the Patriots’ basketball team (2-1) so far this season.

St. John Photography Special to the Observer

Kwame Thornhill, Charlotte Latin Swimming: The Charlotte Latin sophomore is undefeated in multiple events to start the season.

Thornhill won the 200 and 500 freestyle in the Nov. 15th meet against Covenant Day.

He came back in the next meet winning the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly in a meet with Cannon School and Charlotte Country Day, Nov. 27.

Thornhill’s 100 breaststroke victory would have been top eight at last year’s state meet, while his 100 butterfly would have been fourth at the same meet.

Charlotte Latin swimming coach, Patty Waldron says Thornhill is the “most improved swimmer,” on Hawks’ boys’ team going for their seventh straight state championship this season.

Ethan McCosh, Fred T. Foard Swimming: The Tigers’ sophomore won seven events in two meets combined on back-to-back days to open the regular season.

McCosh won the 100 butterfly, 500 freestyle and helped the 200 freestyle relay to victory with Nic Johnston, Dylan Haas and Caleb Peschel in the Nov. 27th meet at Hickory.

The next day, McCosh won the 50 freestyle, the 200 individual medley and the 200 medley relay with Haas, Johnston and Peschel and 200 freestyle relay with Chris Cervantes, Haas and Peschel in the Nov. 28th meet at East Burke.

Spenser Harris, Newton Conover Wrestling: The Newton Conover had a moment he will never forget, pinning Fred T. Foard’s Jake Santolli (at 132-pound weight class) to seal a 33-30 victory over the defending 2A state champion Tigers (Fred T. Foard) in front of a packed gym on his home mat.

Harris, the reigning South Fork 2A conference wrestler of the year, is 14-0 this season, including a tournament championship at the Hough Invitational, Nov. 17.

Harris finished third place at the 2A state championships (120 pounds) last season.

John Arnett, Porter Ridge Wrestling: The Porter Ridge senior wrestler pinned the first 12 opponents he faced this season, including a 1:22 fall over Piedmont’s Henry Mercado Nov. 28.

Arnett finished fourth place in the 160-pound weight class at the Tiger Invitational (tournament) at Mount Pleasant, Dec. 1.

Arnett is 14-2 individually this season helping Porter Ridge to a 10-2 record as team.

Charlotte Observer Girls’ Athletes of the Week

Hickory Ridge’s Nia Daniel, a UNC recruit, scored her 1,000th point Friday. Observer File Photo

Nia Daniel, Hickory Ridge Basketball: The University of North Carolina commit had 17 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and five steals – including the 1,000th-point of her high school career – in a 93-30 win over Jay M. Robinson, Nov. 30.

Daniel also had 22 points, seven rebounds and 11 steals in an 88-28 win at Sun Valley, Nov. 27.

Daniel is averaging 20 points, seven rebounds, five steals and two assists per game this season for Hickory Ridge (3-0).

Dazia Lawrence, Mallard Creek Basketball: The 5-foot-8 senior, Mallard Creek guard averaged 23 points per game as the Mavericks went 2-1 last week.

Lawrence started her week with 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists in a 93-14 win over Jay M. Robinson, Nov. 27.

Two days later, Lawrence had 29 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals in a 58-54, double overtime loss at Butler.

Lawrence capped her week with 22 points, four assists and four steals in a 54-42 win over Cary, Dec. 1.

Lawrence, a Charlotte 49ers’ commit, is averaging 21 points, six rebounds, four steals and two assists per game for Mallard Creek (3-2) this season.

Reigan Richardson, Cannon School Basketball: The 6-foot, Cannon School guard averaged 29 points and 12 rebounds last week in leading the Cougars to win over Sugar Creek and Greensboro Day.

Richardson had her best game with 28 points and 14 rebounds in a tight, 53-49 victory over Greensboro Day, Nov. 30.

Richardson, a major Division I recruit according to Coach Kelvin Drakeford, is averaging 21 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals per game for the Cannon School (4-1) this season.

Abigail Wilson, West Rowan Basketball: The Falcons’ 5-foot-10 junior forward poured in 30 points, while also eclipsing the 1,000th-point of her high school career in a 65-54 win over Lake Norman, Nov. 27.

Wilson is averaging 27 points per game so far this season for West Rowan (2-0).

Lariyah Clark, West Iredell Basketball: The Warriors’ freshman had a monster game with 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in the second game of her high school career to lead West Iredell to a 59-49 win over Crest, Nov. 27.

Three days later, Clark had 21 points and eight rebounds in a 58-54 win over Elkin.

West Iredell is 2-1 this season.

Laura, Tony Busby Special to the Observer

Breya Busby, Arborbrook Christian Basketball: The Arborbrook Christian sophomore point guard averaged 19 points, six assists and seven steals per game in four wins last week.

Busby nearly had a triple-double with 26 points, 10 steals and nine assists in the Falcons 85-12 win at Lake Pointe Academy, Nov. 30.

Busby also started the week strong with 21 points, five assists and four rebounds in a 73-67 win at Forest Hills.

Busby is a Division I recruit according to Arborbrook Christian girls’ basketball coach, Brian Morris.

Kensley Merritt, Hough Swimming: The Huskies’ senior captain won the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke to help Hough beat Lake Norman, Nov. 29, in their season opener.

Merritt also led the 200 freestyle relay team, including Katelyn Yount, Stephanie Qualls, Marissa Lassell, to victory in the same meet.

Leslie Berens Special to the Observer

Ellie Marquardt, South Mecklenburg Swimming: The Sabres’ senior captain got off to a strong start winning the 200- and 500-freestyle (in regional cuts) in the season opening meet with Charlotte Catholic, Nov. 19.

Marquardt, a Stanford University commit, also led the 200-medley relay and 400-freestyle relay to victory with teammates Reagan Johnson, Brynn Martinson and Katie Rauch (on both relays).

Jessica Jones, Carmel Christian Swimming: The Carmel Christian freshman has won every individual event she has swam in the first two meets of her high school career.

Jones won the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke in state qualifying times in meet with Davidson Day, Gaston Day, Gaston Christian, Hickory Grove, Lake Pointe Academy, Metrolina Christian and Westminster Catawba, Nov. 29.

Jones won the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle in the first high school meet, Nov. 15.

Mekyll Robinson, West Mecklenburg Track: The Hawks’ senior sprinter got her season started with a bang at the Harding Polar Bear, Nov. 20, running a 7.24 to win the 55-meter dash the No. 2 time run this indoor season in the state, according to

Robinson also ran the state’s top 500-meter dash with a 1:21.30 at the same meet.

Robinson also led her 4 X 200-meter relay team to victory with teammates, Ebin Matthews, Za’Nya Page and Jireh Pinkney.

Charlotte Observer Area, Varsity Cheerleader Teams: Five different Charlotte Observer area cheerleading squads won their respective Division titles at the NCHSAA Carolina Cup, Dec. 1, where 129 different cheerleading squads competed at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Charlotte Catholic (Small varsity, D1-C); Hopewell (Small varsity D1-A), Lake Norman Charter (Medium varsity D2); Mallard Creek (Medium varsity non-tumble D1) and South Rowan (Small varsity D2-B) all won their divisions.

Jordan Feldman, Lake Norman Cheerleader: The Wildcats’ senior was the NCHSAA class 4A scholarship winter at Carolina Cup Cheerleading Invitational at the Raleigh Convention Center, Dec. 1.

Feldman will receive a $500 scholarship for winning the award.

Feldman, who plans on attending either Duke University or the University of North Carolina, has 4.0 grade-point average (unweighted) and is No. 2 overall in her class at Lake Norman.

She regularly volunteers as youth cheerleading coach and for Habitat for Humanity.

** Information published today includes statistics through December 2nd.

Want to nominate an athlete?: Athletes of the week highlights high school players with outstanding performances. The goal is to recognize all athletes in all sports, both the most accomplished and the underrated or underappreciated players. If you want to suggest someone to be included in the Athletes of the week column, send email to Jay Edwards at Please include the athletes’ name, school, class and applicable game performance statistics. Coaches must be willing to verify information.