Lowe

Weddington 6-5 junior point guard Chase Lowe, right, was the E-J's 2019-20 Union County Player of the Year. Lowe led the Warriors in points, rebounds, assists and steals as a sophomore.

We’re finally less than a month away from the start of high school basketball season, and the excitement around the county is palpable considering how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the local sports scene.

While it’s unclear whether or not COVID will continue to impact the season when it tips off in January, there is currently one county boys team that stands above the rest.

The Weddington boys headline The Enquirer-Journal’s 2020-21 Preseason Boys Hoops poll, coming in at No. 1 after finishing the 2019-20 season 22-8 overall and 13-1 in the Southern Carolina Conference.

Head coach Gary Ellington’s team brings back four of five starters from last season, including reigning county player of the year Chase Lowe, who will start at point guard for the third straight season for the Warriors. Lowe, who is listed at 6-foot-5 on the team roster, led the Warriors in scoring (16.3 ppg), rebounding (9.0 rpg), assists (4.5 apg) and steals (2.4 spg) as a sophomore in 2019-20.

The Warriors will return other contributors from last season, including junior Kyle Frazier (11.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and seniors Brock Bowen (7.6 ppg) and Caleb Wetherbee (6.1 ppg). Weddington is looking to secure its first outright conference title this season since it went 21-8 overall back in 2016-17.

While Weddington is the clear-cut No. 1, the remaining spots in the preseason poll are not as easy to project. Forest Hills claims the No. 2 spot after graduating its top two players from last season’s 29-1 campaign.

The Yellow Jackets will be without Jalen Huntley and Alec Topper, who combined to average nearly 30 points per game last season. Stepping up into the spotlight will be sophomore guard Ty Burch, the 2019-20 Union County Freshman of the Year who averaged 7.8 points and 3.8 assists per game in his first season of high school basketball last year. The Jackets will also lean on senior Mashad Hester and sophomore Zach Barbour to carry the scoring load.

Coming in at No. 3 in the preseason poll is Porter Ridge, which is looking to get over the .500 hump after going 26-26 overall in its first two seasons under head coach Garrett Malone. The Pirates looked poised to challenge for the title of county’s best this season, but they suffered arguably the biggest loss of the offseason when senior Marcus Willis transferred to United Faith Christian after averaging 20.4 points per game last season.

Expected to pick up the slack for Porter Ridge are junior Isaiah Williams and sophomore Dilen Miller, who combined to average 21 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in 2019-20.

Grabbing the No. 4 spot in the preseason county poll is Monroe. The Redhawks have to replace four-year starter Salen Streater, who averaged a team-high 18.1 points per game as a senior last season. Expected to pick up much of the slack is junior Shaleak Knotts, a two-sport star who has 18 Division 1 football offers (according to rivals.com) and should be in the running for county player of the year in 2021-22. The 6-foot-2 Knotts averaged 15.6 points and 9.8 rebounds last season.

Cuthbertson ranks No. 5 in the preseason poll. Now leading the way for the Cavaliers is Chris Caputi, a former assistant under Michael Helms, who is now the coach at Parkwood. Cuthbertson is looking to improve on a 9-16 campaign in 2020-21 and is adjusting to the loss of top-scorer J.P. Haggarty, a 6-foot-5 wing who transferred to Lake Norman Christian. Cuthbertson’s most productive returning player is senior guard Will Heyward, who averaged 9.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season.

Marvin Ridge , ranked 6th, is trying to return to relevance at the county level after a disappointing 8-17 campaign in 2019-20. The Mavericks will be led by seniors Noah Calamas and Sully McDermott, who combined to average 15.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists last season.

THE ENQUIRER-JOURNAL’S

PRESEASON UNION COUNTY

BOYS BASKETBALL POLL

1. Weddington

2. Forest Hills

3. Porter Ridge

4. Monroe

5. Cuthbertson

6. Marvin Ridge