2017 first-place winner for sports writing, Online Division N.C. Press Assn.
By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke School senior Sydney Austin is now the school’s greatest basketball scorer having attained 1,770 total career points.
This year, she discovered she has another sporting talent when she won Hyde County’s first ever state medal as the fourth-place winner in the high jump at the North Carolina high school track-and-field championship May 20.
Competing in Greensboro against 16 other girls from across the state, Austin’s 5-foot jump earned fourth place. Prior to this state honor, Austin captured first place in the high jump at the regional tournament May 13.
What makes Austin’s achievement more remarkable is it was only the sixth time she had ever done the high jump.
“One day, I saw Teresa Hadley practicing the jump in the gym,” Austin said.
She joined in and boom–she was on the team.
“Had she been able to practice, she might have won the whole thing,” noted her mother, Gwen, about the state medal.
Some track-and-field equipment would be welcome at the school, which for the longest time could afford to only have cross-country running and basketball. In the last couple of years, new sports have been added. Baseball was added after Ocracoke Community Park was finished in 2015, along with soccer and girls’ volleyball.
“They have football over on the mainland and a trainer,” said Gwen, who teaches social studies and health at the school. “Maybe we could look at getting some track equipment.”
Austin’s last-minute foray into high jumping shows the tenacity Ocracoke students need on this remote island.
Island youth don’t have the access to equipment and training, let alone almost any other activity the rest of the world takes for granted. For away games, students must travel for hours, sometimes staying overnight, all the while keeping up with their school work.
“With all the hard work and travel Sydney did to follow her goals, she kept her grades up and will graduate with a high GPA,” Gwen said. “No one knows the hours she’s spent—the heart she puts into it.”
While living on an island may put some students at a disadvantage, it also can make them strong.
“Sydney’s faced adversity and challenges with scheduling and travel and a life that most can’t imagine,” Gwen said. “Basketball has helped shape her into the competitive young woman she has become.”
The center forward, Austin has been the star player for the Lady Dolphins.
In 2015, she was named Region 3 High School “Player of the Week” Dec. 8 by both MaxPreps and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA).
But Austin is quick to share the credit for the team’s fine playing.
“One of the best things about this year’s team was we were so close and got along so well,” she said. “We had other secret weapons.”
Such as Bricia Morales, known as “Thricia” for her 3-point shooting prowess, Ingrid Contreras and Vanessa Lora for their speed and Karen Perez for her defense.
Austin’s high jump honors and total basketball point tally–surpassing all other island basketball stars before her, including her dad, Wade–will earn her a place in the Ocracoke School Wall of Fame.
When Wade was in high school, the teams played about 12 games per season.
Though scores for Wade (Class of 1990) and other Wall of Famers Ronnie O’Neal (Class of 1969), Bill Evans (Class of 1989) are not available, they earned their Wall of Fame berths from their outstanding junior-college play where each accumulated more than 1,000 points.
Nowadays, the Ocracoke basketball varsity teams play about 30 games a year giving the players the opportunity to earn high points while in high school.
Basketball is second nature to Austin and her brothers, Hayden and Colby, since from an early age, they have played hoops with their dad and on teams. Their aunt, Lena Austin O’Neal, also played.
“Basketball has always been big in our family,” Sydney said.
After graduation, Austin is headed to Cape Fear Community College where she earned a berth on their basketball team.
She credits her college position to her time last summer on “Team 252,” a Williamston-based basketball team composed of top female high-school players in the counties east of I-95.
They spent the summer playing tournaments in five states, an experience that improved her game.
“Last summer made me strong,” Austin said. “I saw what was out there competition-wise. Summer basketball is the way to go. You meet people who are friends forever.”
Sydney Austin is Ocracoke’s all-time point leader
By Adam Burleson
Lady Dolphins basketball coach
Sydney Austin finishes her basketball career at Ocracoke as the all-time leader in points (1,770), rebounds (904) and steals (450).
She has been named all district by the state of North Carolina two times (2016 and 2017), all-conference all four years of high school and conference Player of the Year in 2017.
This season, she was second in 1A basketball in scoring (24 points per game), and rebounds (11 per game) as well as first in steals (8 per game).
Most incredibly this season, she recorded 24 double doubles, eight triple-doubles and one quadruple-double in 2016. These “double” honors are tallied as 10 or more recorded stats in such categories as points scored, rebounds, assists and steals.
Sydney achieved a quadruple double Jan. 17 against Mattamuskeet, scoring 22 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists and 12 steals.
Game score was 70-11. The quadruple double makes Sydney one of only several women in the history of North Carolina women’s basketball to ever achieve this feat.
Sydney is one of the best athletes this school has ever produced, male or female. She is the best player I have had the pleasure of coaching in my 15 years.
The fourth quarter comeback she spearheaded in the first round of the state playoff game Feb. 21 with Louisburg, Franklin County, will be a memory I hold very dear for the rest of my coaching career.
I look forward to seeing what else she accomplishes, because the sky is the limit.