Berkey leads Myrtle Beach tennis team by example

For The Sun NewsJanuary 19, 2014 

Rachel Berkey MB Tennis

CHARLES SLATE — cslate@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

  • The team

    Girls Tennis Player of the Year

    Rachel Berkey

    School | Myrtle Beach

    Class | Junior

    Highlights | Region VII-AAA Player of the Year and three-time all-region selection was 22-3 in singles matches and 11-1 in doubles play. Led Seahawks to the Class AAA state tournament finals and participated in the Class AAAA-AAA singles tournament.

    Singles

    Anna Brice Cox

    School | Socastee

    Class | Eighth grade

    Highlights | Was invited to the Class AAAA-AAA state singles tournament, where she won a match, after going 14-5 in singles matches and 8-2 in doubles events. Won three tournaments during the season.

    Sydney Derrick

    School | Waccamaw

    Class | Junior

    Highlights | State Class AA-A consolation bracket runner-up also helped Warriors to the Class AA Lower State finals in the team tournament after finishing 15-4 as the team’s No. 2 singles player.

    Ali DeSpain

    School | Waccamaw

    Class | Seventh

    Highlights | Class AA-A state singles tournament runner-up suffered her only loss of the season to state’s top-ranked player. Was 20-1 in singles matches as the Warriors’ No. 1 and helped team to Class AA Lower State finals.

    Jessie Dumas

    School | Myrtle Beach

    Class | Senior

    Highlights | North-South All-Star selection was 23-2 playing No. 2 singles for Myrtle Beach and 10-1 in doubles. Played in Seahawks’ top two spots each of the last five years.

    Caitlyn Wolf

    School | North Myrtle Beach

    Class | Junior

    Highlights | Chiefs’ top player finished 16-3 in No. 1 singles and earned a spot on the All-Region VII-AAA squad. Also part of North Myrtle Beach’s No. 1 doubles team that finished 14-5.

    Doubles

    Mandy Grainger/Maegan Milligan

    School | Green Sea Floyds

    Class | Juniors

    Highlights | Helped lead Trojans to the Class A Lower State finals by combining to go 12-4 as the team’s No. 1 doubles tandem. Milligan was also 9-7 at No. 1 singles, while Grainger was 5-10 at No. 2 singles.

In many ways, Rachel Berkey’s climb up the Myrtle Beach roster has been an inspiration to her teammates and coaches.

Berkey, a Seahawks junior and the Toast of the Coast Girls Tennis Player of the Year, moved into the team’s top overall spot after two seasons at No. 2. Before that, she spent her seventh- and eighth-grade seasons as Myrtle Beach’s 16th-ranked player.

It’s an unusual boost, as typically the best players stand out from the get-go of their tennis careers. For Berkey, though, the rise is a prime example of growth, and one that she routinely talks to younger players about.

“I just feel like they should always have a chance at doing it,” Berkey said. “No one thinks you can move up 14 spots. They should know about it and have the want to do that, to practice more.”

The effects have been noticeable.

Berkey was 22-3 in singles play and 11-1 in doubles matches for the Seahawks this fall. However, other players play made significant jumps, as well.

Myrtle Beach upended six-time state champion Hilton Head in the third round of the Class AAA playoffs and later qualified for the state finals. Jeri Himmelsbach’s team fell short against Travelers Rest, but it was clear – behind Berkey – the Seahawks were back in the mix.

“She’s the motor of our team. She kept us going,” Himmelsbach said. “Without her, I couldn’t even imagine. We’ve got a deep team, but her dedication and her push this year really was the glue.”

Myrtle Beach, which had qualified for the state finals 15 times between 1990 and 2005, is hoping to continue its success next year. The Seahawks lose a pair of seniors. However, Berkey and several other key components will be back on the court.

“We’re all getting better and better,” Berkey said. “I think we’ll make it to states again, and I think we’ll actually have an even stronger team than we did this year.”

That also goes for the standout No. 1.

Himmelsbach said Berkey’s rise to prominence can be broken down to individual matches, as well as her career. Several times this season, the junior was down early to opponents, only to rally for crucial victories that helped the Seahawks win the Region VII-AAA title and then advance in the playoffs. She won her first four singles matches in the postseason before falling to Travelers Rest’s McKenna Jones, one of the state’s top-ranked players, in the finals.

It couldn’t erase everything else Berkey accomplished this year.

What it did to is give Berkey another rallying point for her senior season. Himmelsbach believes her top player – after moving from the team’s bottom spots – will continue to climb in other ways.

“It’s another testament to her determination,” Himmelsbach said. “What I’m really encouraged about is that a lot of girls have that fire. They’re all playing all the time now. I’m seeing that fire. Rachel lit the torch.”

Contact IAN GUERIN at ian@ianguerin.com.

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