ALBEMARLE — While the postseason journey for the Albemarle girls’ basketball team ended on Saturday, the Bulldogs hold the honor of making it further into the state playoffs than any of the five other Stanly County teams that received a bid for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2021-22 championships.
The North Stanly, Albemarle and West Stanly boys’ teams — as well as the North Stanly and Gray Stone girls’ teams — each lost in the first round of action, but the Albemarle girls (19-8, 7-3 Yadkin Valley) advanced to the third round in the 1A bracket.
Top-seeded Murphy (26-3, 9-1 Smoky Mountain) hosted the eighth-seeded Bulldogs on Saturday, sending them home with a 66-36 loss.
Albemarle coach Eric Davis told SCJ on Monday that, despite his team’s loss, he is proud of the direction and development he saw in his players over the past few weeks. With six freshmen, six sophomores and two juniors, his entire team is eligible to return next season.
“The overall core of this team’s going to be together for a total of three years. This was their first year, so it’s going to be really exciting the next two years,” Davis said.
The Bulldogs bounced back after a 70-46 loss to North Stanly (20-3, 10-0 Yadkin Valley) in the conference tournament championship on Feb. 18. From there, Albemarle defeated No. 25 Blue Ridge Early College in the first round of the state playoffs with a 77-56 victory.
In the second-round matchup versus No. 9 Mount Airy, the Bulldogs pulled off a 54-42 win to advance to the third round, where they eventually hit a wall against Murphy, a No. 1 seed.
Still, Albemarle managed to make it to the final 16 teams out of an original pool of 64 teams. Freshmen Amari Baldwin and Bianca Robinson and sophomores Kai Spencer and Jamirica Everhardt each played key roles in their team’s playoff run.
“It was a lot of growing up for them,” Davis continued. “Throughout the season, we had some ups and downs and missing players due to injury. Even in the tournament, we were missing one of our starters. The fact that they were able to go to the third round without a starter, that shows their versatility and that they accomplished a lot.”
Davis mentioned that one of the qualities that sticks out is the “high character” he saw in his players’ camaraderie with each other.
“When they would come into practice, we never had to get on them about effort,” he said. “They’re very close and they don’t have any ego — they’re just as happy scoring or not scoring. They celebrate each other really well, so we were … extremely spoiled.”