MEBANE, N.C. — Winning one state title is hard -- winning two is special. Five seniors at Eastern Alamance High School are just that: special.
When Makenna Raye Dark, Makenzie Taylor, Stoney Dixon, Makiya Graves, and Kyra Helton started their freshman year at Eastern Alamance they were already familiar with 2 things; softball and each other.
"I'd come to the Eastern softball games and I'd play with Kenna and Kenzie behind this fence back here all the time, throwing the ball together and waiting for home runs to be hit," recalls Helton.
"We've always been together" adds Dixon, as she paused to find her next words when her teammate and friend, Makiya Graves, finishes her sentence-- "It's like we grew up together."
That moment speaks to the quintet's tight bond. Forged long before they roamed the halls and classrooms of Eastern Alamance but strengthened by the trials and triumphs they've experienced on the field. Those triumphs include winning a state title in 2019 as a freshman. When I asked if any of the expected that to happen they all agreed that it was not on their radar.
"In 2019, I don't think most of us knew what a state championship really was. I don't think we all knew that was our main goal. I think we came in here just wanting to play high school ball" says Taylor.
Three years and one championship later, that all changed. The 2022 season carried expectations, a return to the mountain top, and a determination fueled by a heartbreaking loss to rival Southern Alamance that ended their 2021 season.
"We just didn't want to go out how we ended last year" claimed Graves.
After a humbling loss in the regional round, the Eagles never looked back, sweeping North Buncombe in the state final to win their second state title.
"Friday and Saturday, those were the best moments of my life," said star pitcher Makenna Dark, whose performance from the mound earned her MVP honors for the series.
It's truly a remarkable journey these 5 young women have shared--from playing behind the outfield fence to hanging championship banners on it. Senior Kyra Helton says it best, "being able to play with them in high school ball and winning two state championships is one of the best feelings in the world and it makes you so happy."
They now leave a legacy that will loom large, long after they cross the stage for graduation. I asked them what they wanted their persona legacies to be:
Makiya Graves: "Somebody that anybody could look up to"
Kenzie Taylor "A leader"
Makenna Dark "The best pitcher to ever come through Eastern"
Stoney Dixon "It's possible to maintain sports and get into hard schools...to balance an un-balanceable schedule"
Kyra Helton "That Kyra always said 'you can do it'"
After graduation they will all continue their softball careers, Makenna will play for the Tar Heels at UNC, Makiya for the Eagles of NCCU, Kenzie for the Bulldogs of Barton College, Stoney for the Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy, and Kyra for the Hawks of Chowan University.
The new standard they have established won't allow a freshman class to come into Eastern Alamance the way they did--"just looking to play ball"-- instead they will try to live up to a legacy established by 5 special players with an incredibly special bond.
"It makes me feel good to know that people are going to come in and know that the expectations are set high," said Makenna.