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WEEKLY WATCH: Conference showdowns set for local teams in soccer, volleyball and football
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WEEKLY WATCH: Conference showdowns set for local teams in soccer, volleyball and football

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David Escobedo

Hickory boys soccer player David Escobedo, 22, stretches out on defense as Hibriten’s Erwin Guzman, 16, looks to move around him in a file photo from last week.

With the exception of boys soccer and football in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, all five conferences are underway in their respective sports — COVID-19 protocols permitting. There are a lot of great matchups this week and we’ll cut to the chase for some of those.

1) Western Foothills Athletic 3A boys soccerHickory at East Lincoln (Wednesday)/North Iredell at Fred T. Foard (Wednesday)A couple of weeks ago, this column mentioned the group of top-notch volleyball teams in the Western Foothills Athletic 3A Conference. The boys soccer group in this league also has quite the gauntlet.

Hickory was a 3A final four team a year ago, East Lincoln and Foard both were 2A state quarterfinalists and North Iredell was a 3A wild card. Add in Statesville, traditionally a strong program, and rising teams in North Lincoln and St. Stephens, and it’s a league in which teams will have to bring their best effort each time on the pitch. A couple of matches on Wednesday could begin to give a clue as to the race ahead.

Despite the loss of several key seniors, Hickory (6-1) started the season with six wins before a 2-0 loss at 2A state runner-up Hibriten last week. The Red Tornadoes’ signature win to this point is a 1-0 victory over Charlotte Catholic, but they’ve also shown they can amp up the offense with big production in matches against Newton-Conover, South Caldwell and Central Academy. East Lincoln (2-3), winner of the South Fork 2A Conference the last two years, is adjusting to a new coach and the loss of key players on defense. After allowing nine goals to open the season with three losses — which equaled their combined loss total over the last two seasons — the Mustangs avenged two of those defeats with wins over Forestview and South Point, both of which were conference champions last season.

Meanwhile, a young Foard team is set to host North Iredell to start the conference slate. The Tigers have had a tough time getting momentum with several cancellations due to COVID protocols. However, Foard (2-2) has prepared for the conference season with matches against playoff-caliber teams Stuart Cramer, Newton-Conover and Ashbrook. North Iredell (3-1-1) served notice it plans to be a part of the battle for the league’s top spot with a tie at Watauga and a win over former North Piedmont 3A rival South Iredell, which won the last two conference titles. Stingy defensively, the Raiders have given up two goals in five matches.

2) Newton-Conover at Lincolnton boys soccer (Wednesday)Over the past four seasons, the South Fork 2A Conference was dominated by East Lincoln and Newton-Conover — the pair made three trips to the state final — with the other six teams looking for the occasional upset to pad playoff rankings. One team that always seemed to peck at Newton-Conover was Lincolnton.

On the win-loss ledger, Newton-Conover has dominated the matchups, winning the last 15 since a tie in 2013 and unbeaten in the last 17 since 2011. Despite the stretch of defeats, the Wolves have closed the gap and are now a threat to Newton-Conover. Last year, Lincolnton led both matches at the half, including a 3-1 edge at home, before the Red Devils rallied with three in the second half for the win. Newton-Conover trailed 2-1 in the other match but scored a goal in overtime for a 3-2 victory. In fact, five of the last six matches came down to a one-goal margin with two of the losses coming in overtime or in a shootout.

Although Newton-Conover (1-5-1) is rebuilding with a young defensive back four, the Red Devils figure to be prepared for the new Catawba Valley Athletic 2A Conference by virtue of a tough nonconference schedule that included Hickory (3A West final), Hibriten (2A runner-up), Foard (2A quarterfinal), Pine Lake Prep (1A champion) and Community School of Davidson (1A West final).

That competition likely outshines anything the CVAC schools will throw at the Red Devils. Until proven different, with East Lincoln now in 3A, they are still the team to beat. But Lincolnton (2-0-1) has to feel that this is its time to make a statement. With the Red Devils on the Wolves’ turf this week, they’ll get a chance to do so.

3) Brevard at Patton volleyball (Tuesday)After a 10-59 record from 2014 to 2018, Patton turned in a magical season in 2019 behind program all-timer Ella Gragg. The Panthers continued to surprise observers that season and rode the wave to a program-best 2A state quarterfinal appearance. Looking at a possible West final matchup with conference foe Foard, Patton defeated Brevard in the first set before the Blue Devils used the home crowd’s energy to win the next three sets and advance.

Patton’s program has continued to grow and last season, when the Panthers were the only team to take a set against Foard, it could be argued they were the second best team in the state, despite losing in the quarterfinals against the Tigers.

The Panthers are back again at 9-0, which includes a pair of Mountain Foothills 7 2A wins. They’ll now turn to their first meeting against Brevard since that quarterfinal loss. Brevard has struggled to get onto the court due to match cancellations, but the Blue Devils are unbeaten to this point at 3-0. With a tough Hendersonville (3-0 MF7) team ahead for both, a win will do well for the conference race yet to come.

4) West Lincoln at Bandys football (Friday)For the sake of argument, let’s go with the preseason polls that say that Maiden will win the Catawba Valley Athletic 2A Conference (of course, nothing in sports is guaranteed). If that is so, who’s coming in second, which will guarantee a state playoff spot?

Bunker Hill and West Lincoln would seem to be the best bets in that race, as both were conference runners-up last season in their respective conferences and are each 3-0 through the nonconference slate.

Could another team get into that mix? East Burke’s program seems to have some momentum, but perhaps they need more time (we’ll know more about the Cavaliers after they host Maiden Friday). Newton-Conover had a disappointing spring season and is 0-2 now, but played South Caldwell tough last week.

And then there’s Bandys. The Trojans went 1-5 last spring, but special teams plays cost them dearly in the first two weeks and they never got momentum under new coach Jason Barnes. But in observing the team last spring, it was clear the players enjoyed playing for the energetic Barnes and good things were on the horizon.

The Trojans routed their two opponents to open this season, which at least gave hope to their faithful. But both opponents — Foard and St. Stephens — are still winless, and since those wins, the Trojans have sat out due to COVID protocols. Assuming they are back at full strength, perhaps this Friday’s game at home vs. West Lincoln will give the Trojans a look at how far they’ve come and if they have a shot to make a run for one of the conference’s top spots.

5) Fred T. Foard volleyball at Hickory (Wednesday) at Watauga (Thursday)For Foard, this is a week to reassert that it will be remain a state title contender. After a loss at North Iredell that ended Foard’s 34-match winning streak, the Tigers got back on track with wins in Western Foothills Athletic 3A Conference play at Statesville and East Lincoln, the last of which was surprisingly easy (25-10, 25-19, 25-20). And now, after a conference match at home vs. North Lincoln, the Tigers Tigers (6-1 overall, 2-1 WFAC) look ahead to a tough week on the road.

In the climb back to the top of the volleyball world two years ago, there was one dragon Foard had to slay: Hickory. The Red Tornadoes had defeated Foard eight straight times before the Tigers finally served notice there was a new sheriff in the area with a sweep of Hickory in September 2019.

There has been little to slow the Tigers since, but they’ll play a Hickory team on Wednesday that may be desperate at reassert itself after a surprising loss at Alexander Central last week. Returning to conference play, the Red Tornadoes (5-2, 1-1), who have finished no worse than second since 2012, need a win to stay out of fourth. With two matches left vs. conference leader North Iredell and rematches on the road at East Lincoln and Foard, this is a contest Hickory likely needs to win to keep that steak alive.

After the match at Hickory, the Tigers will head up the mountain to Boone to face Watauga. The Pioneers (6-2) fell to Foard 3-1 last month in a rematch of the 2019 contest that dealt the Tigers the previous loss before the long winning streak began. Watauga’s two losses are to Foard and North Iredell.

Other contests to watch:

St. Stephens at North Lincoln cross country (Tuesday): The Indian girls won their conference home meet last week, but will have a big task at state champion North Lincoln.

Hibriten at Freedom volleyball (Wednesday): Both teams have improved this year and with one 3A state playoff spot available from the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, one of these teams will likely snare that spot.

Newton-Conover volleyball at Bandys (Tuesday), at Bunker Hill (Thursday): Bandys and Maiden are at the top of the CVAC at 3-0. Newton-Conover and Bunker Hill are right behind at 3-1.

HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY SCHEDULE:

(Schedules listed are taken from information provided by the conference secretaries, athletic departments of individual schools, from information published by the schools on its websites, or on MaxPreps.com. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Volleyball times are approximate, as they often follow JV matches. Contact the school for information on ticket policies and to confirm time of the event.

WEEK OF SEPT. 13-18

MONDAY, SEPT. 13

CROSS COUNTRY

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A Meet at Southside Park, Newton (Newton-Conover hosts), 4 p.m.

GIRLS GOLF

Mountain Foothills 7 (Patton) at Etowah Golf Club (Hendersonville hosts), 1 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Western Foothills Athletic 3A

Hickory at Statesville, 6 p.m.

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A

Bandys at West Lincoln, 5 p.m.

West Caldwell at Newton-Conover, 6 p.m.

Maiden at East Burke, 6 p.m.

Lincolnton at Bunker Hill, 6:40 p.m.

Mountain Foothills 7 2A

Polk County at Patton, 6 p.m.

Nonconference

Chase at Freedom (Catawba River Soccer Complex), 5 p.m.

Lincoln Charter at Hibriten, 6 p.m.

South Iredell at Alexander Central, 6:30 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Northwestern 3A/4A

Ashe County at Freedom, 4 p.m.

South Caldwell at Alexander Central, 4 p.m.

Watauga at Hibriten, 4 p.m.

Nonconference

Bandys at North Iredell, 4 p.m.

Draughn at East Burke, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Western Foothills Athletic 3A

Hickory at West Iredell, 5:30 p.m.

North Lincoln at Fred T. Foard, 5:30 p.m.

St. Stephens at East Lincoln, 5:30 p.m.

Nonconference

East Burke at Hibriten, 5:30 p.m.

Freedom at McDowell, 5:30 p.m.

South Caldwell at Draughn, 5:30 p.m.

Bandys at Alexander Central, 6 p.m.

TUESDAY, SEPT. 14

CROSS COUNTRY

Fred T. Foard, Hickory, St. Stephens at North Lincoln, 4:30 p.m.

GIRLS GOLF

Northwestern 3A/4A at Brushy Mountain Golf, Taylorsville (Alexander Central hosts), 3 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Nonconference

St. Stephens at South Caldwell, 6 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Northwestern 3A/4A

Hibriten at Freedom, 4 p.m.

Mountain Foothills 7 2A

Patton at Hendersonville, 4 p.m.

Western Highlands 1A/2A

Draughn at Rosman, 4 p.m.

Nonconference

Alexander Central at North Iredell, 4 p.m.

Mooresville at Maiden, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A

Bunker Hill at Maiden 5 p.m.

Lincolnton at East Burke, 5 p.m.

Newton-Conover at Bandys, 5:30 p.m.

West Lincoln at West Caldwell, 5:30 p.m.

Mountain Foothills 7 2A

Brevard at Patton, 6 p.m.

Western Highlands 1A/2A

Draughn at Rosman, 5 p.m.

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WEDNESDAY SEPT. 15

CROSS COUNTRY

Northwestern 3A/4A Pre-Conference Meet at Freedom, 5 p.m.

GIRLS GOLF

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A at Hampton Heights, Hickory (East Burke hosts) 3:30 p.m.

Western Highlands 1A/2A Conference (Draughn) at Mountain Glen Golf, Newland (Avery County hosts), 3 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Western Foothills Athletic 3A

Hickory at East Lincoln, 6 p.m.

North Iredell at Fred T. Foard, 6 p.m.

West Iredell at St. Stephens, 6 p.m.

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A

West Lincoln at Maiden, 5 p.m.

East Burke at Bandys, 6 p.m.

Bunker Hill at West Caldwell, 6 p.m.

Newton-Conover at Lincolnton, 6:30 p.m.

Western Highlands 1A/2A

Avery at Draughn, 6 p.m.

Nonconference

McDowell at Freedom, 6 p.m.

GIRLS TENNIS

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Alexander Central at Hibriten, 4 p.m.

South Caldwell at Ashe County, 4 p.m.

Watauga at Freedom, 4 p.m.

Western Foothills 3A

Fred T. Foard at Hickory, 4 p.m.

Statesville at St. Stephens, 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Hibriten at Freedom, 5:30 p.m.

South Caldwell at Watauga, 5:30 p.m.

Western Foothills 3A

Fred T. Foard at Hickory, 5:30 p.m.

Statesville at St. Stephens, 5:30 p.m.

Nonconference

Lincoln Charter at Bunker Hill 5:30 p.m.

West Caldwell at Thomas Jefferson, 6 p.m.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 16

GIRLS GOLF

Northwestern 3A/4A at Mimosa Hills (Freedom hosts), 3 p.m.

Western Foothills at Catawba Country Club, Newton (Fred T. Foard hosts), 3 p.m.

BOYS SOCCER

Nonconference

Hickory Christian at Hibriten, 5:30 p.m.

Alexander Central at Bunker Hill, 6:40 p.m

GIRLS TENNIS

Northwestern 3A/4A

Ashe County at Alexander Central, 4 p.m.

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A

Bunker Hill at Lincolnton, 4 p.m.

Maiden at East Burke, 4 p.m.

West Lincoln at Bandys, 4 p.m.

Mountain Foothills 7 2A

Patton at R-S Central (Crestview Park), 4 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A

East Burke at West Lincoln, 5:30 p.m.

Maiden at Lincolnton, 5:30 p.m.

Newton-Conover at Bunker Hill, 5:30 p.m.

West Caldwell at Bandys, 5:30 p.m.

Mountain Foothills 7 2A

Patton at Chase, 6 p.m.

Nonconference

Asheville at St. Stephens, 5:30 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at Watauga, 5:30 p.m.

Draughn at Alexander Central, 6 p.m.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 17

CROSS COUNTRY

Alexander Central at Fire Tower Fund Run, Appalachian St, 5:30 p.m.

FOOTBALL

Western Foothills Athletic 3A

East Lincoln at Hickory, 7 p.m.

Fred T. Foard at North Iredell, 7 p.m.

St. Stephens at West Iredell, 7 p.m.

Catawba Valley Athletic 2A

Bunker Hill at Lincolnton, 7:30 p.m.

Maiden at East Burke, 7:30 p.m.

Newton-Conover at West Caldwell, 7:30 p.m.

West Lincoln at Bandys, 7:30 p.m.

Mountain Foothills 7 2A

Polk County at Patton, 7:30 p.m.

Western Highlands 1A-2A

Owen at Draughn, 7:30 p.m.

Nonconference

Central Cabarrus at Freedom, 7:30 p.m.

Marvin Ridge at Alexander Central, 7:30 p.m.

South Caldwell at Hibriten, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 18

CROSS COUNTRY

Bandys at Hare and Hound Invitational, McAlpine Park, Charlotte, 8 a.m.

East Burke at Pfeiffer Cross Country Invitational, Pfeiffer Univ., 9 a.m.

VOLLEYBALL

Nonconference

Hibriten at Cherryville tournament, opponents/times TBA

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