3-A QUARTERS: Unbeaten Chapel Hill girls take on Union Pines
While a lot of teams may be looking around Crown Coliseum with a sense of awe for this week's Eastern Regional games, Chapel Hill's girls basketball teams will feel right at home.
The experienced Tigers will play the regionals for the third year in a row, and Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris hopes that gives her team an edge as it chases an undefeated season and a state 3-A championship.
"Years ago, Coach (Ken) Miller told me, 'You have to learn how to win before you can win,'" Norris said of the Chapel Hill boys coach who brought home two state titles during his tenure. "And he said, 'Every time you go to the next level, your kids get experience and learn what's necessary to win.'
"So I think we've got that experience, which gives us a little extra edge because I think they'll play more relaxed."
Chapel Hill (29-0) has rolled through the first three games of the playoffs, winning by an average margin of 43.3 points. The top-seeded Tigers will face No. 4 seed Union Pines (25-5) in the East Regional semifinals (the state quarterfinals) Thursday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m., with the winner advancing to the Eastern Regional title game on Saturday against the West Craven-Northern Nash winner.
Thursday's game is a makeup for Tuesday night's scheduled game that was postponed because the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools were off as a precaution after a winter storm.
Tigers co-captains Catherine Romaine and Jamella Smith have played in the Eastern Regionals the last two seasons, with Smith making the all-East team both years and Romaine winning most valuable player honors a year ago.
Two seasons ago, Norris admitted that Chapel Hill may have been in awe of the 9,564-seat arena, losing in the first game. Last year, though, the Tigers won both games to advance to the state championship.
Chapel Hill lost in the state title game, but that's the last time coaches and players weren't celebrating after a game.
"I think it will bode very well for us," Norris said of the experience the last two seasons. "The first year we came, when Jamella and Catherine were sophomores, they were kind of awe-struck, and we lost by one point in the first round.
"(Last year), they were able to take it in, all the hype, the big arena, and handled it a lot better. The first night, we won in double-overtime against Northern Guilford, and then we were able to defeat West Craven, which was a major thing for us."
Smith and Romaine make the Tigers go, but by no means is Chapel Hill a two-player show.
"We're 11 players deep, and that's our strength," Norris said. "We like to play an up-tempo game and push the ball up the floor. We can sub and not lose anything, too."
Not losing has clearly been a theme this year, though Norris is in uncharted territory now. The veteran coach has never had an undefeated season in any sport.
"Never. Never, never, never," Norris said. "I've been coaching 37 years, volleyball, basketball, and we've never been undefeated."
That could change soon.
"It's a very special group of girls," Norris said. "This will be the third year we've been to the Eastern regionals, and we're real excited about having the opportunity to come back."