The Big Eight will soon turn into the Big Nine. A recent change to the Big Eight athletic conference (which Northwood is a part of) promises an upheaval in the current athletic hierarchy. With the influx of competition and talent into the conference, these shifts could provide a more challenging conference for Northwood athletes.
Currently, Northwood is part of the Big Eight conference, which includes Southern Durham, Orange, Chapel Hill, Cardinal Gibbons and Cedar Ridge. The conference change will provide a shakeup by replacing Vance and J.F. Webb with Northern Durham, Hillside and East Chapel Hill high schools.
Former head basketball coach Alex Hart put it simply: the conference changes are going to make this one of the best 3A leagues in the entire state. He believes that now it’s really going to be one of those conferences from top to bottom in which every team is going to have the talent and skill to go to a state playoff.
“There’s no room to rest on your laurels and be content or relaxed,” Hart said. “You have to lock in and bring it every night that you play, because you know these new teams are going to be killing it and completely taking care of business out there.”
For the basketball team in particular, Hart is worried that Northwood’s culture of multi-sport athletes could possibly impact their ability to compete against schools such as Northern Durham and Hillside.
“Historically, Northwood has been a place where we’ve shared a lot of athletes—football to basketball—for example and at some of these places where they’re not sharing athletes, it’s easier for them,” Hart said. “The new change in rules and regulations, particularly with skill development, is going to make that a huge advantage for some of those schools who could essentially start practice in September.”
Co-Athletic Director Cameron Vernon agrees, saying the level of competition has risen considerably, while the margin for error is much lower.
“Night in and night out, the conference change just made things extremely difficult,” Vernon said. “It’s going to be much harder to succeed and much easier to fail.”
For the football team and head coach Brian Harrington, the Big Eight conference is about to become more difficult because the change will remove weaker teams while adding good ones like Hillside.
“When you add another team that was winning its conference every year like Hillside, the level of competition definitely goes up,” Harrington said. “Instead of competing for first and second place in our conference, now we’re going to be competing for second and third.”
Despite the influx of difficulty and competition making its way to the Big Eight conference, Harrington is determined to prepare and practice the football team the same way.
“Hopefully this won’t change the identity of the football team; we’re just going to prepare to play each week and maintain the standards we’ve always had for ourselves,” Harrington said.
For head coach Kevin McDaniel and the lacrosse team, the level of competition and difficulty is going to be raised by a completely different team: East Chapel Hill.
“East Chapel Hill is going to be a very good competitor in our conference, so with the new changes, they’re going to be one of our biggest threats now,” McDaniel said.
For swimming and volleyball coach Lyn Smith, the proposed conference change creates a unique set of circumstances.
In the winter, Smith coaches both the Northwood and East Chapel Hill swim teams, which she was able to do, because they were completely apart from one another. Now, however, the conference change creates a conflict of interest for Smith. Because the extent and impact of the changes is still uncertain, Smith is still unsure of how much she will or won’t be able to do.
“It makes it difficult for me, because I’m so passionate and caring about both programs, and I would like to continue coaching both of them,” Smith said. “So for me personally, the conference change is a bad thing.”
Much surrounding the scope and magnitude of the effect this conference change could have on Northwood and the league at large is still up in the air. Despite this, the one certainty to be found is that the Big Eight conference is going to be one of the most competitive, difficult and best in the state, and Northwood is going to be right in the middle of it.
– By Adam Rimolt