OLIN—North Iredell enjoyed its first winning season in five years, earned a share of the North Piedmont Conference regular-season championship and advanced to the second round of the 3A state playoffs.
The Raiders finished 12-3 in a COVID-condensed season.
The architect behind their continued ascent: second-year head coach Jeff LeVan.
For his efforts, LeVan was named the R&L County Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. The 1980 North Iredell graduate, who played for the Raiders from 1977-1980, was also honored as the NPC coach of the year.
“We were 11-15 the previous season and real excited about the progress,” said LeVan, who inherited a program in 2019 that won only four games each of the previous two seasons prior to his arrival and was 14-60 since its last winning season (2015-16) when the Raiders qualified for the 3A state playoffs and finished 16-10.
“We knew we had a nucleus coming back, which was real exciting.”
The Raiders dropped to 1-1 after a 67-59 loss Jan. 19 at West Rowan.
A 10-game win streak followed. The stretch included an 81-67 statement victory Feb. 5 over West Rowan. That helped them move into a first-place tie, and the Falcons and Raiders finished at 9-1 in the league and as NPC co-champions.
“We could see the guys growing up,” said LeVan, whose team was 5-5 in the NPC the previous season. “Freshmen to sophomores. Sophomores to juniors. You could see their confidence. We talked about who we had to beat in the conference, set our sights on them and prepared.”
West Rowan and North Iredell met again in the NPC tournament championship game at North Iredell. The title wasn’t the only thing up for grabs. So was the league’s guaranteed spot in the shortened playoffs.
The Falcons emerged from that battle a 64-52 winner, and they nabbed the No. 1 seed in the 3A West playoff bracket.
It was the only time the Raiders lost at home this season. In any other year, maybe the home crowd could have pushed them to another win over West Rowan. But there were no loud roars during North Iredell spurts or key defensive stops.
COVID restrictions on attendance were still set at 25 people until after the Raiders upset T.C. Roberson on the road in the playoff opener 57-55 on a buzzer-beating putback and then lost 66-50 in the second round at West region finalist Crest.
“North has always had that community show of support,” LeVan said. “This community absolutely stands behind us. For the boys to put in the work they did to have the kind of season we did and not have that kind of crowd, it was very disappointing.”
Preparing for an uncertain season spawned by the coronavirus presented obstacles the Raiders, like others, had to navigate.
They did not get to attend team camp last summer. September and October workouts were done six feet apart. Everyone had their own ball. Shooters got their own rebound.
“When we were working on closing out on the shot, we were doing it six feet apart,” LeVan said with smirk. “That’s not a good habit. We didn’t do anything defensively until December.”
Then, of course, there were the masks that players had to wear for practices and games.
“The guys really responded to a challenging situation,” LeVan said.
Defending their home court, with the one exception, is something LeVan said he was proud of.
Winning a share of the conference championship also meant a great deal to the North Iredell alum.
But “seeing the guys play their roles” stood out the most this season, LeVan noted.
North Iredell returns a lot of the same players next season, including four of its five starters.
LeVan said he was excited about the possibilities as the Raiders prepare to join a new conference.