Cedar Ridge’s Moreno wins 120-pound women’s championship at Red Wolf Invitational

Some matches it’s Bach. Some matches it’s Latin Hip Hop. Some matches it’s Kittie, a nu-metal band straight from its peak in 1999.

Regardless of what Cedar Ridge wrestler Zoey Moreno is listening to before a match, she’s among a growing crop of female wrestlers across Hillsborough.

Over the weekend, Moreno celebrated her second individual championship at the Red Wolf Invitational at Cedar Ridge High School. Moreno scored three pins in three matches to take the 120-pound championship. It was Moreno’s first Red Wolf title. Last year, Chapel Hill’s Siena Palmisciano defeated Moreno in the opening round in Hillsborough. Moreno finished third.

On Saturday, none of Moreno’s three matches exceeded one minute. She pinned Maddie Carter of Middle Creek in 13 seconds. In the semifinals, Moreno finished off Aastha Shah of Green Level in 55 seconds. Moreno pinned Adriana Gruner of Northern Durham in only 15 seconds to take the championship.

Last year, Moreno captured the Green Hope Girls Grapple in Cary, winning all three of her matches via pinfall. She pinned Ava Lytle of Wakefield in 33 seconds of the championship match.

Moreno’s wide array of musical influences in prematch preparation goes along with her typical school day. She’s a member of the wind ensemble with the Cedar Ridge band. She plays percussion and has a drum set at home.

Females wrestling at Cedar Ridge has been going on for nearly a decade. Deborah Urban became the first Cedar Ridge women’s grappler. In 2019, Katie Watkins became the first wrestler in Cedar Ridge history to compete for a state championship. In the first North Carolina High School Wrestling Women’s Invitational, Watkins defeated Haley Shipes of West Mecklenburg in a consolation round, but didn’t place.

Women’s wrestling has grown so rapidly in North Carolina that in order to qualify for the State Championships, a competitor must finish in the top four of a regional. Moreno felt she had the confidence to do that last winter. In the Mideast Regional, she pinned Triton’s Jenna Phelps in 1:09. Hoke County’s Jobe Carter defeated Moreno in the quarterfinals. Moreno defeated Ariana Anampa of Green Hope in a consolation round, but fell to Samantha Dedeaux of Jack Britt in the consolation semifinals. She fell one win short of qualifying for the state championships.

“I was very disappointed in myself,” Moreno said in an interview last February.” It wasn’t necessarily like a sad or bad feeling, it was just disappointment because I knew I could have beaten my opponents. The second girl I wrestled (Carter), I didn’t approach that match very well. Because I came in there super strong, but I wasn’t cautious about my moves. I made a big mistake because she was a lot bigger than me, stronger than me. I should have just used my speed.”

Last year’s disappointment led to changes how Moreno trains. She did more cardiovascular work during the spring and summer.

“I’m really hard on myself when it comes to looses,” Moreno said. “Because I know I’m been training this long. It’s pretty much been my life up to this point. So any loss tells me I did something really bad and you should not have done that.”

With a successful start to the 2023-2024 season, Moreno is taking aim on reaching the state championships in February. Moreno is the latest member of a growing breed of female wrestlers. Now, she wants to finish her career on a high note.

“I like wrestling because it’s not something anybody could really do just because they wanted to,” Moreno said. “You have to keep a strong mindset. The grit and power. And I like the fact it’s a confidence booster. I don’t mind being the only female in the wrestling room some days. It’s some ways it’s more special.”


Orange men’s basketball’s Kai Wade & Malachi Poole discuss dramatic win over Hillside

The Orange men’s basketball team’s season opener will go down as a classic. The Panthers defeated Hillside in front of a packed Orange High Gymnasium on Friday night. In a frantic final 15 seconds, Kai Wade tied the game with a 12-foot jumper with ten seconds remaining. As Hillside tried to inbound, Freddy Sneed poked the ball away. Sneed threw the ball to Xandrell Pennix, who found a wide-open Malachi Poole on the wing. Poole, who had not attempted a shot in the game, fired in a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining. The crowd rushed the floor as Orange defeated Hillside for the first time since 2009. Wade has been a spark plug on offense since he started his first varsity game as a freshman last year in Orange’s opener against East Chapel Hill. With the leading scorer from last year, Coleman Cloer, out for the Hillside game with a sprained ankle, Wade carried the load offensively for the Panthers scoring 18 points. Orange will go for its second win of the season tonight (Tuesday) when they trek to the new Northern Durham High School to face the Knights. It will be the first trip for Orange to the new Northern Durham High School.

Malachi Cool–Poole drains last second jumper to lift Orange men’s basketball over Hillside 69-66 in season opener

It was no ordinary season opener.

Then again, it was no ordinary week for Orange men’s basketball leading up to its first game against Hillside on Friday night in Hillsborough. On Monday, Orange’s centerpiece, sophomore Coleman Cloer, suffered a broken left ankle after a fluky incident during practice. He is expected to miss at least two weeks.

Over the summer, Cloer received scholarship offers from N.C. State, Wake Forest, Tennessee and Appalachian State, just to name a few. He wore a walking boot on the Orange bench Friday night.

In Cloer’s absence, there would have to be an unlikely hero to emerge.

Fortunately, Malachi Poole was up to the task.

In a frantic final sequence, Orange point guard Kai Wade tied the game with a pull-up jumper from twelve feet over Suliaman Shackleford with nine seconds remaining.

As Orange set up a full court press with the game tied 66-66, Hillside’s Jayde Braswell threw a soft pass that was deflected by Panthers guard Freddy Sneed, who nearly bumped into an Orange teacher along the sidelines as he raked in the steal. With time drifting away, Sneed threw the ball to Xandrell Pennix, standing left of the lane facing the bleachers. Pennix didn’t see the basket, but he did see Poole standing alone on the wing wide open as the Hornets were caught off guard in the scramble. Pennix threw to Poole, who launched his only shot of the night. It swirled into the net with two seconds remaining to send the Orange student section into a collective roar.

Hillside coach Rashard Lee-Worthy had used all his timeouts and his team was too stunned to inbound the ball as the final moments ticked away. The students rushed the floor to celebrate a win that was a season opener in name only.

“At that point, they were turning us over,” said Orange coach Derryl Britt. “They were giving us trouble bringing the ball up. I knew that Kai was a little fatigued. So we needed to get another ball handler in. So we went to Malachi because he’s a shooter. Malachi has been going through some things. That was a big shot for us as a team, but it was a bigger shot for him, personally. I’m so happy for that guy.”

Orange won 69-66, its first victory over Hillside since December 9, 2009. Wade, a sophomore point guard finished with 18 points. Sneed, who had never scored in double-figures in a varsity game, came away with 16 points, five steals and four rebounds. The Panthers put four players in double-figures, including senior center Ryan Honeycutt, who finished with a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Shackelford led Hillside with 24 points. Justin Lewis came off the bench to score 14 points, including four three-pointers.

The irony of Orange scoring the game-winning basket off a steal from full-court pressure was that Hillside rallied from 17 points down the exact same way. The Panthers committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, leading to the Hornets taking the lead with 4:12 remaining after a three-pointer from Brandon Watley, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half.

There were five lead changes in the final three minutes. Orange sophomore center Mason Robinson grabbed an offensive rebound and shoveled the ball off to Honeycutt for a lay-in to put the Panthers ahead 62-61 with 2:58 remaining.

Jayde Braswell was fouled by Honeycutt and sank two free throws. After a pass slipped through the hands of Hillside center T.J. Ray, Wade went behind-the-back and drilled a 13-footer. Orange maintained a 64-63 lead until the Hornets forced yet another turnover off its full-court pressure. Shackleford stole the ball from Wade, drove to the basket and scored on a lay-in and was fouled by Robinson. Shackleford’s free throw put the Hornets ahead 66-64.

Orange built a 51-34 lead with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter. Sneed completed a 13-1 Orange run with a steal and drive to the basket while he was fouled by Lewis, who picked up his fourth foul and was never a factor again. Pennix drilled the first of Orange’s two 3-pointers in the second half during the run. Pennix, who has played on the varsity since his freshman year, finished with 12 points.

“We took a gut punch on Monday night when Cole went down,” Britt said. “We realized it was a bit serious. We bent over, collected ourselves. Everybody went home and thought about it. Then on Tuesday afternoon, it was very similar to the St. Louis Rams when they lost Trent Green (in 1999). (The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner at quarterback). I told the team we have the players to win and we will play good basketball. Whether we win or lose games? We’ll see. But we will make other teams beat us.”

Even without Cloer, the Panthers shot 49% from the field. The Hornets used 21 offensive rebounds to keep things close. Orange never trailed in the first half, leading by as much as 32-26 after a dunk by Honeycutt from a lob by Robinson. with 3:32 remaining in the second quarter. Lewis scored 14 points in the first half to reduce Orange’s lead to 33-31 with 1:05 remaining, Robinson and Pennix scored the final field goals of the half to put the Panthers ahead 38-31 at halftime.


HIL–15   16   15    20–66

ORA–19  19   15   16–69

HILLSIDE–Brandon Watley 12, Justin Morgan 2, Suliaman Shackleford 24, Jayde Braswell 12, Justin Lewis 14, Quinton Cozart 2.

ORANGE–Xandrell Pennix 12, Freddy Sneed 16, Kai Wade 18, Ryan Moss 2, Ryan Honeycutt 10, Malaykhi Justice 2, Mason Robinson 4, Malachi Poole 3, Hector Garrido 2.

3-Point baskets: Hillside 9 (Watley 3, Lewis 4, Shackleford 2). Orange 3 (Pennix 2, Poole)

Rebounds: Hillside 34 (Shackleford 7) Orange 45 (Honeycutt 13)



Orange Middle’s Amir Johnson, Mason Stubbs, Markus Thomas & Owen Phillipps discuss winning OPAC Championship

The Orange Middle School Chargers claimed the Orange Person Athletic Conference championship last week. The Chargers defeated Culbreth 24-6 at Auman Stadium in Hillsborough. 8th grader Owen Phillipps had a huge all-around night for OMS. Playing four different positions, Phillipps finished with 61 yards rushing and 52 yards receiving. Phillipps caught a 52-yard touchdown pass to open the game after Amir Johnson recovered a Culbreth fumble on the opening play from scrimmage. Later Phillippps would play quarterback out of a wildcat formation and helped the Chargers run out the clock. Starting quarterback Mason Stubbs, an 8th-grader, threw a 13-yard touchdown assist to Markus Thomas. Stubbs scored the final touchdown off a 1-yard run on a quarterback sneak. Thomas ran in a 2-point conversion on the point-after to give the Chargers a three-score lead. 7th grader Amir Johnson had a strong all-around game. He recovered a fumble, made two sacks and ran in another 2-point conversion. Orange Middle claimed its first OPAC football championship since 2015 under first-year head coach Jamie Bailey. The Chargers lost only one game all season and defeated Culbreth twice.  In October, Orange Middle came back from a 12-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Cougars 18-12.

Cedar Ridge Male Athlete of the Fall Sports Season: Iliah Babchenko

From the outside, there wasn’t any reason to think this season would be all that special for Cedar Ridge men’s soccer.

They finished 5-15-1 in 2022, winning only three Central Carolina Conference games. They won consecutive games only once and lost its top scorer from each of the past two seasons, Cthe Rhris Mendez, due to graduation.

Yet from the very beginning of the season, when they defeated Eno River Academy 4-2 on August 14 at Cedar Ridge Stadium, there was a different feel for Cedar Ridge this year. After the win over the Bobcats, senior midfielder Iliah Babchenko said the team’s goal was to make the state playoffs for the first time in six years. Babchenko had a goal and an assist in the season opener against Eno River.

Soon, those expectations would grow larger. Three days later, the Red Wolves started a four-game road trip with a 4-1 win over Voyager Academy in Durham. Babchenko scored on a penalty. The Red Wolves would start 4-0-1, its best start in 14 years.

The most thrilling win of the nonconference portion of the schedule came against Seaforth in Pittsboro, when the Red Wolves rallied from two goals down to beat the Hawks 3-2. Jonam Juarez scored the game-winning goal.

Babchenko was the leading scorer on the best Cedar Ridge men’s soccer team ever at the 3A level. The Red Wolves finished 12-5-3 overall, 8-2-2 in the CCC. Babchenko finished with six goals and 13 assists.

Without question, his most memorable moment of the season came against Western Alamance on September 10. Mired in a rugged, scoreless game in the final five minutes of regulation, Babchenko triggered a corner kick along the north end of Red Wolves Stadium. The ball was blocked back to Babchenko, who launched a cross into the six-yard box. Salomon Hernandez curved into the right spot and got enough contact on a header to tuck the ball into the right corner of the net, setting off a wild celebration that spilled onto the track.

The Red Wolves would hold on to beat the Warriors 1-0. The win vaulted Cedar Ridge into first place in the CCC, where they remained until the final week of the season.

“We had a great season,” Brummell said. “This is probably one of the most memorable seasons I will ever have. I feel like in the very short period I’ve been here, we’ve really turned things around. I’m going to miss Iliah, though.”

Babchenko was also directly responsible for a 2-1 win over Walter Williams in Burlington, Cedar Ridge’s first conference win ever at Kernodle Field. Babchenko scored a goal and also assisted on the game-winner from Dominic McNerney.

Last month, Southern Lee defeated Cedar Ridge 3-2 in the opening round of the 3A State Playoffs. It was the first time since 2015 that the Red Wolves hosted a state playoff game.

Cedar Ridge finished second in the CCC despite having just four seniors. Babchenko, emotional after his final game at Cedar Ridge, summed up a memorable senior season following the loss to the Cavaliers.

“I think we had a lot of goals for this season,” Babchenko said. “We had high expectations. I remember after the Eno River win, I said we wanted to make the state playoffs. We did it, but we didn’t get the result we wanted (against Southern Lee). But we can’t knock ourselves because we put up a fight.”

Babchenko began playing in the Mebane Youth Soccer Association, then moved on to play at Triangle United for travel soccer. His parents moved to the United States in the early 2000s from Ukraine. Babchenko’s father was the public address announcer for Red Wolves games this season at Cedar Ridge Stadium.