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Now that the school year is over, Princeton High athletics’ consistency has been rewarded on the state level.
On June 11, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced the Bulldogs won the Wells Fargo Conference Cup for the 1-A Carolina Conference. Since 1980, the conference award, previously the Wachovia Cup, is handed out to the school with “the best overall interscholastic athletic performance” in its conference. Each conference determines its scoring method.
With 11 teams that captured Carolina Conference titles during the 2018-19 sports calendar, Princeton met that description and finished well ahead of the six other league schools by racking up 92.5 points. Rosewood was second with 85.5 points, followed by Hobbton (62), Lakewood (61), Neuse Charter (42), North Duplin (39.5) and Union (21.5).
“This is just my fourth year here, but talking with community members and folks that have been at this school a very long time, they all tell me we’ve never done anything close to this,” Princeton athletic director Travis Gaster said. “I think across the board, the dominance we were able to display here as a school would be called the most successful athletic year in school history, and you’re talking about a long time for the history of this school.”
Coming out of fall sports, the Bulldogs emerged as the early front-runner for the award. Princeton won conference titles in football, volleyball and boys and girls cross-country. Neither the football team nor the volleyball squad lost a conference game.
When the weather changed and winter came, the winning continued for the Bulldogs. The boys basketball team had one of its best seasons in recent memory, as it finished the year with a fourth conference championship — its first since 2010 — and an undefeated conference record that was part of a 23-3 campaign.
The girls basketball team lost just one conference game and finished with an 11-1 record, just ahead of Rosewood, while the girls indoor track team finished with a conference championship as well.
In the spring sports, the school solidified its spot atop the standings and did not let Rosewood catch up.
The softball team of head coach Don Andrews finished with a 7-1 record in the conference, and parlayed that success into a deep run that took it all the way to the 1-A East Region championship series.
The boys golf team and track teams finished ahead of the rest to pile on extra points that put the conference honor out of reach from the rest.
Gaster said after a year of collective Bulldog success, he is looking forward to building on it next school year. But he recognized the school just had a special year too, when the hard work of many athletes paid off.
“My first thought is it’s going to be real hard to ever top that,” Gaster said. “But in all seriousness, we have an unbelievably awesome group of student-athletes that buy into a coaching staff that believes in teamwork and fair play, and they just bought into who we are as a school.”
Gaster noted that among school-wide success, the girls running teams had an exceptional year, as runners for the girls cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams helped the school sweep the conference in all three sports. Gaster said many of the same runners contributed to the accomplishments of all three teams. That dominance culminated with the spring girls track team becoming the 1-A Mideast Regional Champions after finishing 14 points ahead of the other 20 regional schools who participated on May 11.
“They really succeeded in a big-time way,” Gaster said. “Not just in the conference, but in state competition.”
Princeton was the lone school from the Johnstonian News readership area to finish atop its respective conference standings. North Johnston finished second in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference standings with 62.5 points, just behind Nash Central, who had 66. Farmville Central (60.5) came in third, followed by Beddingfield (57.5), SouthWest Edgecombe (54), then North Pitt with 48.5 points.
In the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference, Smithfield-Selma finished last with 140 points. Clayton (233.5) won the conference cup, followed by Cleveland (225), West Johnston (172), South Johnston (153) and East Wake (143), and then the Spartans.
In the 4-A Northern Atlantic Conference, Heritage and Wake Forest tied for first with 96 points, followed by Wakefield (95), Corinth Holders (74), Rolesville (66), then Knightdale (31).