Like a number of other senior student-athletes from the area this year, Jo Snow had her choice of what sport she wanted to play in college. But in her case, there was never any doubt.
Snow’s achievements over the past two seasons, which include back-to-back MVP awards in the NCHSAA 1A women’s basketball state championship game, have earned her nearly a thousand Twitter followers. And her handle, @josnowbeballin, tells you all you need to know.
“It was a very big goal of mine to play college basketball,” said Snow, who has also competed in soccer and in track and field for Mount Airy High School, earning All-State honors in the latter. “Basketball is where my heart is. The other sports, I just do for fun, to stay in shape, but basketball is where I put all of my work into.”
The work paid off last Tuesday, when Snow officially signed her National Letter of Intent to play college basketball at Wingate University, six days after committing to the school on the first day of the spring signing period.
Snow’s commitment to the Bulldogs came a month and a day after she completed a remarkable high school basketball career as a two-time state champion, and three weeks to the day after she was one of only two 1A players among the 15 names on the N.C. Basketball Coaches Association’s All-State women’s basketball teams.
“I’m so excited that she’s got this chance to play for a great basketball program,” said Mount Airy coach Angela Mayfield. “I know the coach there, and she is a great coach, and I think the style they play fits Jo well.
“I’m so proud of her. I can’t put into words how I feel about that kid and what she’s meant to our program.”
Snow is joining a perennial powerhouse in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Conference. Wingate went 26-6 last year and reached the second round of the NCAA D2 Tournament, and finished as the 19th-ranked team in the country. The Bulldogs played North Carolina in an exhibition during the season and were competitive with the Tar Heels.
Snow’s recruitment didn’t heat up until late in the process, as often happens with players from smaller schools. Interestingly, Snow’s second choice was another D2 power, Columbus State, which lost to Wingate in the first round of the NCAA’s.
“I just followed my heart and prayed about it, and (Wingate) seemed like the best decision for me and my family,” said Snow. “I had a few colleges who were calling and asking me to come to their workouts with the team, but I had pretty much decided on Wingate by then.”
Snow had taken up basketball at a very young age, and the players who made up the Lady Bears’ two championship teams had been her teammates in AAU ball for years before they ever suited up at MAHS. But Snow was the first to make an impact on the varsity. In her very first game as a freshman, on November 29, 2014, she scored 17 points in a win over Winston-Salem Christian. She averaged 11.5 points per game that year, and 15.2 as a sophomore, when the Lady Bears went 21-8.
Everything changed after that season. Howard Mayo stepped down after a decade as coach to return to his native Virginia as head coach of Galax. Several players graduated, and the 2016-17 team had a totally different look than the one that had preceded it. But it was really just a reunion of all of those standouts from the Surry Storm, including Mayfield, who was promoted to head coach.
In their first game together as Lady Bears, the gang scored 42 unanswered points before the other side got on the board. The Lady Bears opened with eight blowouts, and lost just twice in the regular season, by a total of seven points. They were ranked in the state top five all season, but Snow said they never really thought about a championship — something that Mount Airy had never done before.
“I have to say it was after we beat Murphy, when I had the game-winner,” she said of when the team started dreaming of going all the way. “I think that was the moment when I realized, ‘wow, we could actually win this.’ They were such a tough team.”
That occurred in the fourth round of the playoffs. The Lady Bears, ranked No. 1 in MaxPreps’ 1A ratings, hosted third-ranked Murphy and led by nine points in the first half, but the Lady Bulldogs battled back and led 37-33 with 5:04 to play. Snow hit a 25-footer at 3:52 to get her team back in the fight. With 9.2 seconds remaining, she split two defenders, drove the lane and banked in a shot to put Mount Airy back on top, 40-39. Moments later, she stole a Murphy inbounds pass to secure the victory.
The Lady Bears beat Avery County in the West Regional final and then routed Pamlico in the state championship game to make history. Snow had 17 points in the final game and was named MVP.
“When the state playoffs start, everyone thinks about the ring, but I never thought it would actually happen,” she said.
The Lady Bears didn’t have even an hour to enjoy the title before reporters asked Mayfield about repeating. If a team was ever set up to fail, they were. But they were too mature, too poised, and too closely-knit to let it happen.
“We’ve played for each other for a long time. We all played for the same AAU team when we were little, and Coach Mayfield was our coach the Surry Storm, and that had a lot to do with it,” said Snow. “We all had this very strong bond and connection with each other, because we’d been playing together ever since we were little. We all knew each other’s game and gave each other props.”
The only thing this team cared about was having one more point than the other team when the clock hit zero.
“It was hard to deal with (the pressure), because you just wanted to focus on the regular season and go game by game. We just focused and took it one game at a time and tried to block out everything else,” said Snow of her senior season.
Mount Airy lost just twice in Snow’s senior year, both times to a West Forsyth team that reached the 4A Elite Eight, in games where the only real difference was depth. No other opponent came within 13 points of the Lady Bears until the regional final, a rematch with Murphy, where the Lady Bears ended the game on an 8-0 run and won 46-35. But the game before that was more memorable to Snow. A regional semifinal win over East Wilkes was her last game at the Howard Finch Gym.
“That was probably the most special game to me, because it was our last time playing on this court and we finished out with a win,” Snow said.
The state championship game was another rematch, as the Lady Bears faced Pamlico again. The Lady Hurricanes had lost just one game all season, to a 3A state semifinalist by three points, but fell 69-32 to Mount Airy. Snow ended her career with 27 points and another Finals MVP award. In the final seconds of the win, a retired long-time North Carolina prep journalist said he thought the Lady Bears were the “best 1A team ever.”
Snow will be content to let others debate that.
“It felt amazing to make history, I can’t even explain the feeling. And then to do it back to back was even better,” she said. “That was a great feeling. I couldn’t imagine it. I’m still in shock.”
Snow credited her parents, Keith and Yune Snow, with helping her to succeed and reach her goals.
“We’ve been through a lot, and I definitely wouldn’t be here without him,” she said. “He’s believed in me and been there for me through everything. We’ve been through a lot and I wouldn’t be here today without him and my mom.”
Now Snow will move on and try to help Wingate make history as well, while following the exploits of her sister Jasmine, who was showing off her basketball moves while Jo was having her signing.
“Possibly, maybe even better than me,” Jo said when asked if her sister could repeat her exploits in about a dozen years.
She says she isn’t sure what she wants to major in yet, but is eager to join the Bulldogs.
“I’m very excited, ready to put in the work and see what is in store for me,” she said.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.