Cedar Ridge, Orange paired in new lacrosse conference

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Updated: September 18, 2019

The realignment of the new 3A/2A/1A lacrosse conferences raised some eyebrows across Hillsborough among players and coaches last week.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association released new the new conference configurations last Thursday. Orange and Cedar Ridge remain paired together in Conference 9. The biggest surprise isn’t just who joined them, but also who didn’t.

Often, the NCHSAA will keep teams from an existing league evergreen for lacrosse, as well. However, Big 8 Conference members Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill, Northwood and Southern Durham were split off into a new Conference 10. They were joined by Carrboro and Voyager Academy.

Orange and Cedar Ridge are joined in Conference 9 by fellow Big 8 member Northern Durham, and also J.F. Webb, Roxboro Community School, Vance Charter and Vance County.

The release of the new league brought this skeptical response from East Chapel Hill’s lacrosse Twitter account.

Unpopular Opinion: It was nice to have a (now former) Lacrosse Conference that was aligned to our #Big8 Conference… you know, like EVERY OTHER SPORT – made us feel like part of the whole. #PerpetuallyStartingOver @trianglelax @nclaxnews #nclaxscores pic.twitter.com/52WjRpld9x— East Lacrosse (@EastLax) September 12, 2019

Some of the players from both high schools in Hillsborough has a similar reaction.

One lingering question is will everyone in Conference 9 actually have a team?

Vance Charter opened in 2017. Though they offer 15 different sports, they have yet to do so for lacrosse. Vance County, formed after the consolidation of Northern and Southern Vance High Schools in 2018, joined the Big 8 Conference this summer. Even though Northern Vance had a lacrosse team in its final years, Vance County hasn’t fielded its first squad.

Roxboro Community School was slated to play in Conference 8 in 2019, but never made it to the league campaign. After playing four games, they disbanded, leaving Conference 8 to be contested among only Carrboro, Voyager and Webb.

It’s possible the NCHSAA was concerned about creating a league primarily consisting of schools that can’t be relied upon to complete a season or field a team. While Cedar Ridge and Orange are still young programs compared to their neighbors in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, they also have healthy participation and recent playoff success.

Cedar Ridge played for the 2017 3A/2A/1A State Championship. Last May, Orange defeated Northside-Jacksonville for its 2nd-ever state playoff win.

“Honestly, I was surprised,” said Cedar Ridge coach Patrick Kavanaugh about the new alignment. “Typically, the state has tried to keep the all sports conferences as in tact as possible. Obviously, splitting up East, Chapel Hill, Northwood and Southern out of our conference, they didn’t do that.”

For Cedar Ridge and Orange, it’s the exact opposite of conference stability that Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill became synonymous for. The Tigers and the Wildcats were among the first teams in North Carolina to offer the sport in the late-90s. Long before it was sanctioned by the NCHSAA, Chapel Hill and East often met in the state playoffs when the sport was governed by the North Carolina Lacrosse Association, largely comprised of local head coaches. In fact, the Wildcats and the Tigers played for the 2006 State Championship at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

Both Kavanaugh and Orange Coach Chandler Zirkle say they will continue to schedule Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill and Carrboro for nonconference games.

“We’re going to keep playing all of those teams,” Kavanaugh said. “They’re longtime rivals, they’re good teams and they’re close. We’re lucky. Orange and Cedar Ridge don’t have to travel 90 minutes to get quality lacrosse games. I teach until 4 o’clock. I’m not going to schedule games on the east side of Raleigh or in Greensboro when I can get quality of games within 20 minutes of Hillsborough.”

Carrboro and Cedar Ridge met for the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship in 2016 and 2017.

Zirkle, whose father Franklin is the coach at Leesville Road in Raleigh, also was taken aback by the new league.

“I was a little disappointed that we won’t be playing the same times that we have in the past,” Zirkle said. “They’ve all been really fun rivalries to develop the last few years. Our goal is still going to be to play them. Those rivalries won’t go away.”

However, Zirkle said the new league does offer new possibilities for his team.

“We’re excited about the new opportunity,” Zirkle said. “There’s new competition and some teams that we don’t see all the time. So we’re interested to see what’s the going to be like.”

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