As Morgan Fairbanks takes a break from practice inside Cape Hatteras Secondary School’s modest gym, she talks basketball with fellow team captains Caroline Gray and Savannah Scarborough.
Fairbanks recalls that first game of the season — back in November against Currituck. It was the “Battle of the Beach” Tournament and the Hurricanes had just finished off a 40-30 win on their way to what stands as an unblemished 15-0 mark as the Sentinel went to press.
“Our coach told us to play the rest of the season like we did in that game, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Fairbanks told the Sentinel.
Indeed, the girls basketball squad from the little school on Hatteras Island, which includes just 195 students in grades 9 through 12, is having a season to remember. It has climbed to the No. 9 spot in the state among 1A schools, defeated its northern beach rivals, First Flight and Manteo, and is eyeing tournament time with optimism and determination.
Asked about the formula for this success, head coach Earl Fountain says, “They are a very, very close-knit group…The girls know what each other is going to do before they do it. They can react without thinking, and that comes from playing together, but also from spending time together.”
Realizing at the beginning of the season that he didn’t have enough girls to make a junior varsity team and not wanting to cut any players, Fountain put all 14 girls on a larger varsity team. And with the exception of three games, all 14 girls have played in every game and average at least two points a game.
Fountain has been a Hatteras basketball coach for more than 20 years, and the players will tell you that no one knows basketball on this island better than Fountain and Assistant Coach Molly Thompson.
Five days a week – and on most weekends, for that matter – the players put in the hours on the court as they run plays, do sprint conditioning and scrimmage against one another. They regularly stay after practice to sharpen their shooting and rebounding skills.
The athletes, who range from freshmen to seniors, eat lunch together on game days, and share many other meals together, often camping out at someone’s house for the weekend to be together, Fountain told the Sentinel.
While the team has a go-to player in senior Caroline Gray, who is averaging almost 17 points a game, Fountain asserts that, “There is no one here who is selfish. Nobody cares about who scores.”
“One advantage we have is that we had a large nucleus coming back from last year,” he points out, adding that the girls have bought into his and Thompson’s coaching philosophy. “I like pressing, we like running and we like having everyone involved. That’s the whole thing, we don’t have to totally rely on one athlete out there.”
“I can’t express it enough that this year’s team is about family,” said captain and senior Gray. “And it is the same way when we are out on the court. Any of our fourteen girls can go in at any point in time and handle it without a doubt. They can roll with the starters.”
Scarborough adds, “To be successful on the court, you have to work in unison. You have to know how your other teammates think. I need to know what Caroline is going to do and be one step ahead.”
For her part, Assistant Coach Thompson is serious about running the girls so they have the endurance required to outpace their competition.
“You win basketball games by beating teams down the floor,” she said, adding that Scarborough and Gray have pushed the team to play harder this season. “They’ve wanted to win for a long time and they finally had the opportunity.”
Of the team, she adds, “They are a good group of girls. This is the least ‘drama-fied’ team I’ve ever been involved in.”
“We are pretty blunt here,” Gray says of her team. “If we have something to say, we say it. We vent right to someone’s face and then get past it. That benefits us as a team.”
And as this small-town team from Cape Hatteras nears the end of the season, it has its eye on the conference and state championships. The conference tourney begins on Feb. 14.
As well as the team has been playing, Thompson believes the Hurricanes will only step up and better their game as the competition intensifies. “Right now, they are playing down to the other teams. I think we are going to see a lot we haven’t seen all season.”
Gray concurred. “I believe we can make it there without a doubt,” she said of competing at the state level. “We need to put a lot of time in, and come in a lot more on Saturdays. We’ll have a lot of late practices, but we know that’s the only way to get better.”