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 email@example.com.