In both life and volleyball, Jennifer Gravely needed a fresh start.
Apparently, the legendary coach has found both on the Grand Strand.
After spending the past 14 years at Pickens — where she led the Blue Flame to six state championships — Gravely was recently announced as St. James’ new volleyball coach.
“It has been amazing how all this has come together,” she said. “My husband and I have always dreamed of one day retiring at the beach. We may have come here a few years early, but I’m eager to teach and work here, and set some roots here.”
Gravely replaces longtime coach Lindsay Mayer, who has taken on an administrative role at the school.
Hired in 2003 to take over a perennial powerhouse at Pickens, Gravely certainly did her part to continue the program’s winning tradition.
In 2004 — her second year on the job — the Blue Flame won the Class 3A volleyball title. They would repeat the feat in 2005 and 2006.
Gravely guided Pickens to five more Upper State 3A championships in her tenure, winning three more state titles (2009 and 2013-14). Her six state titles rank seventh all-time among volleyball coaches in South Carolina.
However, in recent years she’s had a yearning for a new challenge.
“I’d coached 14 years at Pickens, won six state championships and countless Upper State titles, but toward the end there was a need for a new challenge for me, and the kids needed a new voice to lead them,” Gravely said. “It was time for me to be somewhere else.”
The new St. James volleyball coach has yet to speak with her new team, though many of the things she’s heard came as music to her ears.
“While I’m coming in a bit blind, I’ve heard the girls are hardworking athletes and passionate about the sport,” Gravely said. “The fact they are a scrappy bunch really ties in to my coaching style.”
Gravely said she has already started setting goals and scouting opponents, particularly a pair of powerhouses residing in her team’s region.
“Without a doubt, we’re in a strong region,” she said. “You have North Myrtle Beach, which is really good, and a Myrtle Beach team that won Lower State last year. So it will definitely be a challenge, but one I’m looking forward to.”
In addition to Gravely, St. James also hired former Carolina Forest volleyball standout Katie Davis to take on the role of assistant coach. After starring locally, she went on the play four years at the Division I level with UNC Asheville.
“I’m excited for Coach Mayer, and we were very fortunate to hire Coach Gravely and Coach Davis,” said St. James athletic director Paula Lee in a text message. “They will join one of our veteran volleyball coaches and former Shark athlete Spencer Holland.”