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Five stars: Honoring the best athletes in each North Carolina region

Welcome to “Five Stars,” the weekly feature where we highlight great athletic achievements across our state’s many regions. As the name suggests, we limit each region to five athletes.


Counties: New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Brunswick, Carteret, Pamlico, Beaufort, Hyde, Dare, Tyrell, Washington, Bertie, Hertford, Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Camden, Pasquotank, Currituck.
Zach Hughes, First Flight boys cross country: The final kick pushed him ahead of the pack to claim the NCHSAA 2A championship on Saturday.
Kamryn Johnson, Currituck County volleyball: The senior with more than 1,100 career kills and more than 1,100 career digs was the 2A title game MVP after registering 16 kills and 37 digs.
Katherine Schuster, First Flight girls golf: The sophomore has two NCHSAA 1A/2A state titles in as many seasons. Her score of 5-under par was better than any golfer in the 3A and 4A ranks.
Mary Davis Thompson, New Hanover girls tennis: She went 20-4 in singles play this year, helping the Wildcats to a runner-up finish in the 3A East dual-team playoffs.
Bailee Twiford, Currituck County girls golf: She was third in the 1A/2A championships after having defeated Schuster in the regional competition the week before. 


Counties: Nash, Wilson, Wayne, Pitt, Greene, Lenoir, Halifax, Northampton, Edgecombe, Jones, Martin, Craven.
Zonovan Knight, Southern Nash football: The N.C. State recruit has had an incredible year so far. He has more than 1,400 yards rushing and is averaging 15.8 yards per carry. He has scored 18 touchdowns on 91 carries, meaning there’s about a 1-in-5 chance one of his handoffs will end up in the end zone.
Anthony Harris, Havelock football: The Tennessee recruit has 24 touchdowns passing and another 13 rushing for the undefeated Rams. Though he’s projected to play defense at the next level, he’s only had to line up on both sides of the ball once — in a showdown with previously undefeated Jacksonville.
Olivia Hunt, D.H. Conley volleyball: She had 22 digs in the Vikings’ runner-up finish in the 3A state championship.
Garrett Pannell, Faith Christian School football: He finished the season tied for the most interceptions in the state with nine (other schools’ seasons are still going) as he helped the Patriots from Rocky Mount to the NCISAA Division I 8-man championship.
Jackson Stone, Greenfield boys soccer and cross country: He had a whopping 36 goals and 22 assists this season as the Knights were runner-up in the NCISAA 1A championship, but he also helped Greenfield win it all in cross country, where Stone finished fifth in the state.


Counties: Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus, Iredell, Gaston, Lincoln, Anson, Montgomery, Stanly, Rowan, Iredell, Alexander, Caldwell, Burke, Rutherford, Cleveland, Catawba.
Madeline Hill, Cuthbertson girls cross country: She claimed the individual NCHSAA 3A title and helped her team do the same. Pretty good day for the Cavaliers runner.
Zoe Huffman, Maiden girls tennis: What an incredible last two weeks for Huffman! She won her third 2A state singles titles (one of 11 players to do so) and led her team to its first team title. The only year Huffman didn’t compete in singles, she won the doubles title.
Rose Kenny, Charlotte Catholic girls tennis: She closed out her career in style, winning her second straight 3A singles state title and helping the Cougars finish a perfect season with the team title in back-to-back weeks.
Jenna Thompson, South Mecklenburg girls tennis: She’s now one of 11 girls tennis players to win three state singles championships after picking up the 4A crown. And the junior could make it four-for-four next year.
Mac Russ, Marvin Ridge volleyball: She had 12 kills and was named MVP of the 3A state championship game. The Mavericks broke an NCHSAA record with 44 wins this season.


Counties: Cumberland, Robeson, Harnett, Lee, Hoke, Moore, Sampson, Columbus, Scotland, Richmond, Bladen, Columbus.
Nicole Adam, The O’Neal School girls golf: She finished runner-up in the NCISAA girls golf Division II championships.
Carmen Alder, Pinecrest girls cross country: The super sophomore torched the field to win the 4A state championship and set a new course record.
Mara Hirtle, Pinecrest girls golf: She took runner-up honors in the 4A state championships, helping the Patriots to a second-place finish.
Maggie McCormick, Harnett Central girls cross country: Her runner-up finish in the 3A state championships is the best in school history.
Ben Verchick, Union Pines boys cross country: Speaking of school history, his runner-up finish in the 3A state championships was the best in Vikings’ history.


Counties: Guilford, Forsyth, Davidson, Alamance, Randolph, Caswell, Rockingham, Stokes, Davie, Yadkin, Surry, Alleghany, Wilkes, Watauga, Ashe.
Riley Hamilton, Rockingham County girls golf: She took third overall and she helped the Cougars win a fourth straight 3A team title.
Sasha Hayes, Reagan girls golf: Her individual title helped the Raiders take home the 4A team title in one of the most competitive fields seen in recent years.
Abigail Hemric, North Stokes girls cross country: Her goal was just to finish in the top 10, but the junior got a lot more when she won the NCHSAA 1A individual title.
Ashley Johnson, West Davidson volleyball: She had a team-high nine kills in the Dragons’ runner-up finish in the 2A state championship.
Kayla Smith, Williams girls golf: Finished runner-up in the 3A state championships after a feverish front nine to start the second day of action.


Counties: Wake, Durham, Johnston, Orange, Chatham, Person, Vance, Granville, Franklin, Warren.
Sydney Dowler, Green Hope volleyball: With 34 assists in the NCHSAA 4A state title game, the junior won her third championship MVP award in three years. Only one volleyball player has ever won four.
Emani’ Foster, Vance County volleyball: The junior finished this season with more than 600 kills, becoming the first player in NCHSAA to record that many since records have been kept. Foster now owns two of the top three single-season marks.
George Hotelling, East Chapel Hill boys cross country: The Wildcats have won two team titles before, but Hotelling is the first from the school to claim the individual title.
Anton Idhammar, Cary boys cross country: He became the second Imps runner to win the state title in this decade and he helped Cary — one of the top programs from year-to-year — break through to its first 4A title in the sport.
Hannah Preisser, Carrboro girls cross country: The freshman came out on top and spearheaded the Jaguars’ state title efforts. Carrboro has now won five of the last nine team titles and seven of the last nine individual titles.


Counties: Cherokee, Graham, Clay, Macon, Jackson, Swain, Haywood, Buncombe, Madison, Henderson, Transylvania, Henderson, Polk, McDowell, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery.
Caleb Potter, Polk County boys cross country: Potter won the most exciting of all the state championships, winning in a photo finish to take home the 1A crown.
Ana Tsiros, Asheville girls golf: She became the first golfer in school history to win the state title, taking home the 3A crown with the only under-par, two-day score.
Navy Shuler, Christ School football: The son of former NFL quarterback and U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler has the Greenies in the NCISAA Division I 11-man championship game.
Olivia Sutter, Carolina Day girls cross country: She took home the NCISAA 3A individual state championship, which helped bring home the team title.
Sydney Waldman, Polk County volleyball: She had 32 assists in the Wolverines’ runner-up finish in the 1A championship on Saturday.
J. Mike Blake

J. Mike Blake is an English teacher at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh and a contributor to He covered high school sports for a variety of newspapers in The News & Observer Publishing Company for 10 years and won 14 N.C. Press Association awards. He is also the only two-time winner of the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association’s media person of the year award.