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.”
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.
Emerson Talley: The Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team won the South Atlantic Conference Championship over Catawba at the Mecklenburg County Sports Complex in Matthews on Sunday. The Bears and the Indians played to a 2-2 tie after 110 minutes of action. The Bears claimed the championship after winning 4-2 on penalty kicks. Talley started in the championship game and played 36 minutes. In the semifinals on November 10, the Bears shut out Carson-Newman 2-0. Talley played 67 minutes and fired one shot. Lenoir-Rhyne completed an undefeated run through the South Atlantic Conference, finishing 11-0. They are 15-0-4 overall. The Bears received a #1 seed for the NCAA Division II Tournament and will face Carson-Newman in the opening round on Friday at the Moretz Sports Athletic Complex in Hickory. If the Bears win, they will host the second round game against either Columbus State or Flagler on Sunday afternoon.
Ivy Garner: Garner scored a goal for Liberty in the opening round of the NCAA Division I soccer tournament on Friday. Garner notched the equalizing goal for the Flames in the 72nd minute. Georgia’s Kiera Staude scored the game-winning goal in the 85th minute as Georgia won 2-1, denying Liberty its first NCAA Tournament win. Liberty, the champions of Conference USA, ends the season 16-3-1. As a sophomore, Garner was named first-team All-Conference USA. This season, she started in all 20 of the Flames games. She scored six goals and racked up four assists. She was second on the team with 39 shots and had 19 shots on goal, which was tied for second on the squad. It was Liberty’s eighth Division I NCAA Tournament appearance.
Trenton Gill: The Chicago Bears defeated the Carolina Panthers 16-13 at Solider Field last Thursday night. Gill had six punts for an average of 46.7 yards. One of Gill’s punts was returned for a touchdown by Carolina’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette, which was the only time the Panthers saw the end zone all night. Gill had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line. His longest boot was 62 yards. Chicago is 3-7 and will face Detroit at Ford Field on Sunday.
Payton Wilson: As his career at N.C. State winds down, Wilson continues to rack up the honors. On Wednesday, he was named a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, given to the best defensive player in college football. The Wolfpack won its third straight on Saturday, beating Wake Forest 26-6 at Allegacy Stadium in Winston-Salem. Wilson finished with seven tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hit. Wilson continues to lead the team in tackles and had two tackles for loss against the Demon Deacons. On Saturday, Wilson will play the last true road game of his career when the Wolfpack take on Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA.
Braxton Mergenthal: The Division III Hampden-Sydney football team’s season came to an end last weekend when #9 Randolph-Macon defeated the Tigers 49-10 at Day Field in Ashland, VA. Mergenthal finished with four tackles for Hampden-Sydney in a rivalry that is considered the Oldest Small School Rivalry in the South. Hampden-Sydney finished the season 6-4 overall, 4-3 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Mergenthal played in ten games this season and collected 22 tackles and one fumble recovery.
Joey McMullin: The Division III Methodist men’s basketball team started its season earlier this month. The Monarchs dropped its home opener to Guilford 74-59 at the Riddle Center in Fayetteville on November 8. In his first game at Methodist, McMullin finished with seven points in 22 minutes. He shot 3-of-7 from the field. He also collected two rebounds. Johnson & Wales defeated Methodist 83-73 in Fayetteville on Saturday. McMullin started and scored six points off 3-of-11 shooting from the field. He also had four rebounds and an assist. On Wednesday, Virginia Wesleyan defeated Methodist 61-48 at TowneBank Arena in Virginia Beach, VA. Once again, McMullin started and played 17 minutes. He scored three points off 1-of-5 shooting from the field. McMullin also had a rebound. The Monarchs will travel to Asheville on Saturday to face Warren Wilson College.
Julie Altieri: For the first time since 2012, the Salisbury Seagulls won the Coast-to-Coast Conference Tournament championship. On Saturday, Salisbury defeated Mary Washington 3-2 on scores of 25-20, 23-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-13. Altieri, a freshman, was named to the All-Tournament team. Altieri had 49 assists, 15 digs, seven kills and one ace in the championship match. With the win, the Seagulls have reached the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 11th time in program history and the second time in as many years. In the semifinals on Friday, Salisbury defeated Christopher Newport 3-1 at the Maggs Physical Activities Center (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-21). Altieri, who became the starting setter about one-third of the way into the season, finished with 36 assists, 13 digs, two aces and one kill. Salisbury is 20-7 going into the NCAA Tournament.
Lottie Scully: The Binghamton Bearcats ended its regular season with a 3-0 loss to the University of New Hampshire on Sunday (25-22, 25-20, 25-19) at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, NH. Scully finished with 29 assists, nine digs and two kills. On November 8, the Bearcats defeated Manhattan College 3-1 at Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale, NY. Scully came away with 43 assists, nine digs, two kills, and two aces. Binghamton concludes the regular season 14-12, 6-4 in the America East Conference. Binghamton will face New Hampshire for the America East Championshp on Friday in Baltimore.
Cameron Lanier: Elon ended its season with a 3-1 loss to Delaware at the Schar Center on Sunday. Lanier finished with six kills and five digs. The Blue Hens prevailed on scores of 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 and 27-25. On Saturday, Delaware swept the Phoenix 3-0 (25-16, 26-24, 25-22). Lanier played in two sets and had one kill and one dig. Elon swept a two-match series from Hampton on October 28 and 29, it’s only wins in the Coastal Athletic Association this season. On October 28, the Phoenix won 3-0 at the Schar Center. Lanier had seven kills and six digs. On October 29, the Phoenix defeated the Pirates 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-14). Lanier was tied with the team lead with ten kills, along with two digs and one block. Elon finished 5-22 overall, 2-16 in the CAA. Lanier finished her freshman season second on the team with 221 kills. The only player with more was Sydney Love, a junior who had 230. She also had six blocks.
Cameron Lloyd: The Bucknell Bison ended its regular season with a loss to American University 3-0 inside Bender Arena in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Lloyd had four kills, 12 digs and three aces. On November 5, the Bison defeated in-state rival Lehigh 3-1 at Davis Gymnasium in Lewisburg, PA. Lloyd provided a strong second option for the Bison. She finished with ten kills, along with ten digs and three aces. On November 4, Bucknell swept Lafayette 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-16). Lloyd had seven kills, eight digs and two aces. Lehigh will start play in the Patriot League Tournament against Navy on Tuesday at Davis Gymnasium.
Grace Young: UNC Asheville ended its season with a 3-1 win over USC Upstate at the Justice Center in Asheville on Saturday. Young played in all four sets and finished with seven digs and four assists. On November 4, Gardner-Webb defeated the Bulldogs at the Justice Center. Young played in one set and had three digs, one assist and one ace. UNC Asheville finished with an 8-20 overall record, 2-12 in the Big South. For her freshman year, Young played in 46 sets and had 52 digs and 12 aces.
Allie Wilkerson: The season ended for Division III Averett University in the semifinals of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference on Thursday. Randolph-Macon defeated the Cougars 3-1 (21-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-16) at Crenshaw Gymnasium in Ashland, VA. Wilkerson had one kill and two blocks for Averett. In the quarterfinals, Averett defeated Bridgewater 3-1 at Niniger Hall in Bridgewater, VA (17-25, 27-25, 25-15, 25-22). Wilkerson had five kills, one dig and one ace. Averett ends the season 14-17, 7-5 in the ODAC. This season, Wilkerson was third on the team with 153 kills. She had 16 aces and 44 digs.
Melissa Benkowitz: The season of Division III Franklin & Marshall ended in the semifinals of the Centennial Conference Tournament. Gettysburg edged the Diplomats 3-2 (25-18, 17-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-10). Benkowitz had two digs in her only set of action. In the quarterfinals, Franklin & Marshall defeated Muhlenburg 3-1 (25-23, 25-7, 22-25, 25-20). Benkowitz, in her freshman season, played in 12 of the Diplomats 26 matches. She had 61 kills in 33 sets.
When you pull into Reynolds Coliseum on the first Saturday in November, you know one of the teams you’re covering has done something right.
Two years ago, the Cedar Ridge volleyball team was that squad. Last Saturday, it was Orange volleyball’s turn.
And what a day it was. Not just in Raleigh, but also in Kernersville. Gabriel Schmid ended the most accomplished cross country career in Orange High history with a first-place finish at the 3A State Championships at the Ivey Redmon Sports Complex. The only regret I have on the day was that Orange volleyball’s state championship match against Kings Mountain started at noon. Originally, the match was slated to start at 7, which would have allowed a lot of Orange officials to make a full day out of it.
Orange cross country competed for the state title on Saturday morning. They had the best finish of any Orange team ever in a state championship, finishing second behind Croatan.
It was a memorable fall on so many levels. The Cedar Ridge men’s soccer team nearly became the first soccer team in Hillsborough history to win a conference championship. They were one win away. For the first time ever, the Orange men’s soccer team reached the state playoffs in back-to-back years.
Cedar Ridge volleyball captured the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship. For a squad that lost eight seniors, including the top two attackers in school history in Cameron Lloyd and Cameron Lanier, along with Julie Altieri, Melissa Benkowitz and Anaya Carter, they still banded together to win a conference title. Cedar Ridge was the only team to beat Orange in Panther Gymnasium this year, something that J.H. Rose, Carrboro or Falls Lake couldn’t do. Cedar Ridge’s senior class, which includes Greylinn Serge, Rachel Alverson, Addie Reid and Natasha Buchler-Fosado, will have a lot to look back on and smile about in the future.
Let’s go back to October 15-21 for this week’s Magnificent 7, the top seven performances from the week in no particular order.
- Claire Hargett, Soph. Cedar Ridge: A mammoth performance against Orange in the CCC Tournament championship match. Hargett had a season-high 24 kills as the Red Wolves pulled the upset against Orange. The Red Wolves were the only team in the CCC to beat Orange this year. Cedar Ridge claimed a share of a conference title for the fourth straight year.
- Naomi Dyreng, Jr. Cedar Ridge: Dyreng won the CCC women’s cross country individual championship on October 18. Dyreng crossed the finish line at 21:50.18. Her teammate, Abigail Klaitman, came in second at 22:00.56. Cedar Ridge finished second as a team, only behind Walter Williams.
- Myles Jermyn, Jr. Orange: While Schmid won the conference championship for Orange men’s cross country, his teammate made sure the Panthers captured the team championship for the third year in a row. Jermyn came in second at 17:37.41. Jermyn’s father is the cross country coach at Elon University. The Orange athletic program has already won two conference championships and two regional championships this year.
- Erik Galunas, Soph, Cedar Ridge: The Cedar Ridge goalkeeper had a tremendous clean sheet during a scoreless tie against Western Alamance on October 16. Galunas made eight saves. Afterward, head coach Chauncey Brummell thought Galunas played well enough to get signed by a professional academy. He wasn’t joking.
- Annabeth Lundberg, Sr. Cedar Ridge: Lundberg won two matches for the Cedar Ridge women’s tennis team in its victory over Orange in the opening round of the 3A State Dual Team Playoffs. Lundberg won at #6 singles, then teamed with Raven Mowles-Airing to win at #3 doubles as the Red Wolves edged the Lady Panthers 5-4 to advance to the second round.
- Katie Silcott, Soph. Orange: Had 14 digs and 38 assists against Western Alamance in the CCC Tournament semifinals. Silcott surpassed 1,000 assists for the 2023 season during the 3A State Playoffs, which could very well be a single-season school record. She surpassed 1,000 assists for her career in the final week of the regular season. Is another 1,000 assist season possible for 2024? Orange returns outside hitter Aubrey Jordan and Ava Wilkerson next year. And, likely, in 2025, as well.
- Shannon Sollars, Jr. Orange: A strong finish to the season for Sollars. She won both of her matches in Orange’s final dual match of the season against Cedar Ridge. Sollars defeated Ella Caltabiano at #2 singles 6-3, 6-0. She teamed with her sister, Erinn, one final time in a dual match to defeat Cameron Mayhew and Adeline Cummings 9-8 (7-5 tiebreaker).
Cedar Ridge men’s soccer to host Southern Lee in 3A State Playoffs tonight; Orange travels to Lee Co.
When August practice started for the Cedar Ridge men’s soccer team, the goal was to make the state playoffs.
It was a common refrain. The Red Wolves haven’t been since 2016 when current Chicago Bears punter Trenton Gill played for the Red Wolves, coached by Chris Walker.
Nonetheless, it felt like a lofty goal after the Red Wolves finished 5-15-1 last year.
Then the Red Wolves started 2023 with six wins in its opening nine games. Needless to say, their goals got bigger.
Tonight (Monday), the Red Wolves will host a state playoff game inside Red Wolves Stadium for the first time since 2015.
The Red Wolves received a #14 seed for the 3A State Playoffs. They will host Southern Lee, the #19 seed from the 4A/3A Sandhills Conference tonight at 6PM.
Along the way, the Orange men’s soccer team has made its own history. The Panthers also made the field of 64 for the 3A State Tournament, receiving a #26 seed. The Panthers will journey to Sanford tonight to face Lee County, the champions of the Sandhills Conference.
It’s the first time in the 35-year history of the program that Orange (8-7-3) has made the state playoffs in back-to-back years. Orange sewed up its spot in the state playoffs with a 2-0 victory over Eastern Alamance last week in Mebane. Traver Bruhns, in his final regular season game, scored two goals. It was the first brace of his high school career.
Orange goalkeeper Finn Kelly earned the clean sheet. The winner of Lee County/Orange will face either Western Alamance or Walter Williams in the second round.
It’s a bittersweet draw for Cedar Ridge, who finished the regular season 12-4-3. While they’re hosting a state playoff game, they nearly made history by winning the Central Carolina Conference championship. It would have been the first men’s soccer championship in school history. Two weeks ago, the Red Wolves played to a scoreless tie at Western Alamance. They maintained the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Warriors and were two wins away from taking the crown. But on October 18, the Red Wolves lost to Walter Williams 1-0 on a goal by Anderson Aguilera with 6:42 remaining in regulation. Western Alamance closed with decisive wins over Person and Southern Alamance to take the conference crown.
“I couldn’t imagine that it would have gone that way this year,” said Cedar Ridge coach Chancey Brummell. “Last year was a good group of kids. I don’t think they played as a team and it showed. I thought going into this year we were going to be competitive. But if you had asked me ‘Coach, would Cedar Ridge be in contention to win the conference?’ I would have told you no. I didn’t think we were going to be up there with the likes of a Western (Alamance) and a Williams.”
If Cedar Ridge’s season could be defined in one imagine, it would be Salomon Hernandez running across the field after scoring on a header against Western Alamance with 4:17 remaining in regulation. Goalkeeper Erik Galunas would earn the clean sheet as the Red Wolves defeated the Warriors 1-0 on September 20.
“When we won the first few games, I knew then we were going to become something special,” Brummells said. “It was disappointing to come up short against Williams last week. But compared to where we were last year, I will take that any day. It’s impressive not just for the players, but I think for the program and the school. It’s shows other players that Cedar Ridge soccer is going somewhere.”
It’s Cedar Ridge’s first trip to the 3A State Playoffs since 2016, when they lost to Corinth-Holders 1-0 in the opening round. The Red Wolves were an 11-seed. Back then, the 3A State Tournament was a 32-team tournament.
The last time Cedar Ridge hosted a state playoff game inside Red Wolves Stadium, it was 2015. They defeated Northwood 2-0.
This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is senior volleyball setter Rachel Alverson. This season, Alverson surpassed 1,000 career assists. Last week, Cedar Ridge helped the Red Wolves upset crosstown rival Orange to win the Central Carolina Conference Tournament at Panther Gymnasium. Against the Lady Panthers, Alverson had a season-high 54 assists. It was the fourth straight year that Cedar Ridge won a conference regular season and/or tournament championship. This year, Alverson finished with over 900 assists. She had 40 or more assists in a game nine times in 2023 for a Cedar Ridge team that finished 17-9. Alverson is a two-sport athlete at Cedar Ridge. She also plays women’s soccer. Alverson’s final win as a Red Wolves volleyball player may go down as her greatest game ever. On Tuesday night at Red Rams Gymnasium, Cedar Ridge defeated Franklinton, The Big East Champions, 3-2 in the second round of the 3A State Playoffs. Alverson finished with 46 assists as the Red Wolves advanced to the Round of 16 in the 3A State Playoffs for the fourth straight year. A trademark of Cedar Ridge teams in 2023 will be Alverson setting up her middle blocker and friend Addie Reid for thunderous kills that always electrified Red Wolves Gymnasium. Alverson will resume her soccer career in February.
Cedar Ridge seniors Iliah Babchenko, Jonam Juarez, Jackson Baker & Abazar Babiker discuss Senior Night win
For the first time since 2016, the Cedar Ridge men’s soccer team is headed to the 3A State Playoffs. The Red Wolves celebrated a special season with a 3-1 victory over Eastern Alamance at Red Wolves Stadium. Junior Dominic McNerney scored the game-winning goal. Senior Iliah Babchenko scored on a penalty as the Red Wolves completed the regular season 12-4-5. Last year, the Red Wolves finished 5-15-1 in 2022. Cedar Ridge will likely host a game in the state playoffs on Monday night. It will be the first state playoff game of any sort contested inside Red Wolves Stadium in May 2022. Babchenko, Jonam Juarez, Jackson Baker and Abazar Babiker were all honored on Senior Night as the Red Wolves swept the season series from the Eagles. Cedar Ridge finished in 2nd place in the Central Carolina Conference, its best-ever showing as a 3A team. Cedar Ridge will venture into the field of 64 in the state playoffs, which has been the goal from the beginning of the year.