Another year has gone by, but not before swooping over the athletic landscape of Lee County and leaving us with a few stories that will be remembered for years to come.
The year 2008 was marked by truly inspiring accomplishments by some of the county’s most decorated athletic figures, but there was also plenty of heartache to go around as well.
In this first edition of the Top 10 Sports Stories in Lee County for 2008, we’ll count down my choices of stories that ranked 6-through-10 on my list. In Part 2, I’ll reveal the top 5, including the No. 1 sports story in Lee County from the past year, as well as the several other moments that came oh so close to making the list.
10. Southern Lee baseball rises
The Cavaliers’ baseball program joined several of the other Southern Lee athletic programs in quickly raising the bar of early success with a standout season in 2008.
Led by All-State junior catcher Daniel Haire (more on him in a minute) and a host of quality arms on the mound, the Cavaliers bounced back from an 0-3 start and from the humble beginnings of a six-win team in 2006 to win the Cape Fear Valley Conference and advance to the second round of the state playoffs.
“I’m real proud of these kids,” said Cavaliers coach Matt Burnett. “To come back from that first year, to work that hard and do this, it’s all about them. It’s a testament to them.”
Even after the season ended, Southern Lee’s program continued its rise, advancing to the championship game of the Central Carolina Scholastic Summer League.
9. Zach Furl and Daniel Haire name All-State
Lee County still boasts some of the best baseball in the state of North Carolina.
Zach Furl and Daniel Haire confirmed that.
Both players, one from each of the county’s two public high schools, were named to the N.C. Baseball Coaches Association’s All-State teams for their play this season.
Furl, the ace and slugger for the Lee County Yellow Jackets, made the 4-A team for the first time in his career as a senior while Haire, a standout catcher for the Southern Lee Cavaliers, was named to the 3-A team for the first time as a junior.
Furl had an exceptional season despite Lee County’s struggles. The Yellow Jackets won just nine games, but Furl won eight of them, all of which were complete games and all of which came in his first eight starts of the season. He finished the season 8-2 with a 0.90 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 67 2-3 innings. He also batted .400 and led the team in home runs with six.
Haire was the key cog in the emerging Cavaliers’ lineup, batting .478 with a whopping seven triples, two home runs and 37 RBI. Haire led Southern Lee to its first Cape Fear Valley Conference baseball championship and into the second round of the state playoffs.
8. Campbell football returns — with help from Lee County
In front of 5,845 fans, the Campbell Camels made their return to the gridiron for the first time in 58 years on Aug. 30.
And they did it with some help from a few Lee County natives.
Four former Yellow Jackets were on the roster on the historic day, which ended with Birmingham-Southern rallying to a 12-6 victory. While the outcome of the game didn’t turn out they way they or any of the many Campbell alumni in the area hoped, Mike Stryffeler, Jon-Michael Stone, Phillip Thompson and Chris Stryffeler can all say they were there when the game came back to Buies Creek.
From August through early November, Andrew Stryffeler didn’t have the kind of senior season he was hoping for on the gridiron.
For the best all-around player on the Yellow Jackets’ team, it was difficult to stomach a second straight year without making the playoffs.
All that changed before the end of the year.
Stryffeler became the third Yellow Jacket in four years to receive an invitation to play in the prestigious Shrine Bowl, an all-star game for the top seniors in North and South Carolina.
Stryffeler recorded two unassisted tackles in the 24-17 loss at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C., but the loss wasn’t what he will remember about this game or the entire experience.
“I’m going to remember the great group of athletes I got to play with,” said Stryffeler. “There were a great group of athletes on both sides of the ball and I knew that going in from practice. But there is a big difference between practice and a game and in the game everyone turned it up a little bit. It was an honor being a part of it all.”
6. Madeline Edwards and Lee County gymnastics
Madeline Edwards couldn’t have scripted 2008 any better.
After leading the Lee County Yellow Jackets to their second straight Division 2 state championship by placing first in each individual event, the senior Edwards went on the finish second overall on the balance beam at the Level 10 national gymnastics meet in Orlando, Fla.
“I was nervous, but I tried to relax myself as much as possible,” Edwards said of the Level 10 national meet, which is one step below elite, Olympic-level competition where some of the top college-age gymnasts and prospects compete. “When I saw the 9.6, I was ecstatic.”
In the high school state meet, the Jackets’ four scoring gymnasts made up a third of the top 12 positions. Edwards took first place in the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise, making her a three-time 4-A state individual champion.
Alyssa Krol was almost as dominant, finishing second overall by taking second place in the vault, balance beam and floor exercise. Abigail Thomas took eighth place overall and Tricia Czar finished 12th overall.