FHS winter sports roundup

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Dan Finnerty

As spring nears and outdoor high school athletes begin their annual return, it is a good time to reflect on and capture the winter season that was for the Franklin High School (FHS) programs. The Panthers competed in basketball, indoor track, and swimming for the past two-plus months, with some memorable performances and winning campaigns.

FRANKLIN HIGH School junior Max McClure surpassed 1,000 points for his career in the M7C.


Both girls’ and boys’ varsity Panthers finished their seasons the same day, Feb. 27, in the first round of the 3A State Playoffs. The women lost to Ashe County, 58-73 while the men were defeated by North Lincoln, 35-78. Earlier this month, following their 70-66 win over Pisgah, Feb. 16, where junior Noah Brannon (27) outscored this season’s high scorer Max McClure (24), the men’s team fell to West Henderson, 72-55. McClure led the way, scoring more than 67% of the total points, with 37 and ended the season with 576. He also surpassed 1,000 pts. for his career and now sits at 1,055. The squad achieved a 16-9 (7-5) record overall.

In the M7C semi-final round, the Lady Panthers barely lost to the Lady Black Bears of Pisgah, 47-46, to end their year in an extremely tight game that saw FHS leading most of the second half. They trounced Tuscola, Feb. 16, 66-24 in the M7C quarter finals to draw Pisgah in the semis. Their season ended with an overall record of 14-11 (10-4).

Monday, Feb. 19, saw the junior varsity boys also end their season, falling 39-36 to East Henderson, and finishing 15-5 (6-4) overall. 

For the JV girls, their season ended successfully, Feb.22, against the 19-2 (9-1) Pisgah Lady Black Bears with a 23-10 victory on Pisgah’s home court. Bekah and Josh Brooks’ squad was the last FHS basketball Panthers standing once the conference tournament ended, with the team on a six-game winning streak. Previously, the girls had defeated West Henderson, 30-28, Feb. 15, in the M7C semi-finals.

THE JV girls’ basketball season ended successfully on Feb.22, with the team celebrating afterwards with their coaches, Bekah and Josh Brooks.


FHS indoor track finished 2nd (men) and 4th (women) respectively Feb. 10 in Winston-Salem at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A Indoor Championship Meet. 

Some standout performances included the girls 4×200 meter (m) relay team of seniors Hope Smith and Rylee Cassada, along with junior Laura Covarrubias and sophomore Michelle Ortega, who finished third. The same team, minus Ortega, who was replaced by sophomore Amy Mendoza Lopez, finished fourth in the 4x400m relay. 

In the 4x800m relay, Lopez, along with fellow sophomores Abigail Pope and Mindi Holbrooks, and freshman Morgan Cress, also came in third place.

Senior Boston Stringer took second place in the girls’ pole vault with a 11-0.00 performance. Junior Charley Seagle took fourth place in the shotput (36-11.00).

For the boys, senior standout Elijah Cochran placed third in the 55m sprint with a 6.45 score and took second in the 300m run (35.29). He also came in second for the 55m hurdles (7.71). 

The team of seniors Barrett Stork and Logan Russo, and juniors Matheson Post and Cooper Tyler, took third place in the 4x800m relay. In the pole vault, senior Aaron Jennings finished second with a 13-06 vault and junior Adam Rogers placed fourth (13-06).


Head Coaches Dina and Dwain Picou have led the FHS swimming program for many years. Given their experience, it carries legitimate weight when they offer insight. 

“Being one of the few teams that do not swim year-round, it is extremely hard to compete against all the year-round swimmers from Charlotte and Raleigh. The FHS swimmers and divers do amazingly well against the tough competition at the Regional and State meets.”

MOUNTAIN SEVEN Conference Swimmer of the Year, Natalie Claire Ballard, competes at the 3A State Meet on Feb. 8.

Case in point, FHS girls finished first at the Mountain Seven Conference (M7C) championship meet Jan. 20, for the third year in a row. The boys finished second after placing first the last two seasons. Additionally, senior Natalie Claire Ballard was Conference Swimmer of the Year.

At the State Meet Feb. 7 in Cary, the Lady Panthers placed 11th overall out of 63 teams competing. They placed eighth in the 200-yard (yd) medley relay race, which was good enough to compete in and take first place in the consolation round. They defeated seven other schools to achieve the accomplishment. The team, made up of seniors Ballard and Rylee Cassada, along with juniors Zoi Walker and Kate Phillips, broke their own FHS school record from this year’s regionals meet (2.02.81), with a 2.02.76 score.

The team of Logan Guynn, Ballard, Zoi Walker, and Cassada also achieved overall eighth place for the 200-yd and 400-yd freestyle relays. In the 200, they broke their own school record from last year: from a 1.45.93 to a 1.45.65 in preliminaries. They managed a 1.46.19 in the finals. Ballard also broke her own 100-yd breast stroke school record of 1.11.14 with 1.10.92 to take seventh place.

FRANKLIN HIGH School swimmers at the 3A State Meet in Cary included (from left): Rylee Cassada, Logan Guynn, Kenna Keyworth, Zoi Walker, Kate Phillips, and Natalie Claire Ballard.

On the boys’ side, Jonah Brandt placed fourth in the state for the 1-meter dive with a 303.75. He followed up his record-breaking performance at the M7C meet Jan. 20 in Waynesville, where he bested a 2015 FHS record held by Ryan Ballant (342.95) with a 344.85. Brandt also finished in second place at Regionals in Charlotte, Feb. 2-3, with a 296.90.

Lastly, of note, former FHS Head Football Coach Josh Brooks is back. On Feb. 20, the Macon County Board of Education made the announcement. Reached for comment, Brooks stated, “[After] 14 weeks of reflection, [I saw] a school, and a program that needed a leader … that was about to enter [unchartered] waters during construction … it will take a big group of us to navigate through all of it but honestly at the end of the day, it’s not about me it’s about the men that are willing to coach in our program and the kids.”