‘Long Live Coach’: Myrtle Beach boys vow to win state championship for Coach Rivers Lynch
Sophomore W.J. Vaught has a freshly inked tattoo of it on the back of his right shoulder.
And he, like all of his teammates, has it written on his tennis shoes and some of the other attire he takes onto the court daily.
“LL Coach” stands for Long Live Coach.
Though it’s certainly not required to remind the Myrtle Beach High boys tennis team members of the loss they all suffered less than two weeks ago when beloved coach Rivers Lynch died of natural causes at the age of 72, the motivational team motto contributes to his enduring spirit.
And it provides tangible evidence that Lynch’s inspiration lives on in his players and their continued success.
“Definitely seeing the way we reacted to everything I feel he’s smiling down on us pulling us through,” Vaught said. “I think everything that happened, I think it brought us all closer together and made us play harder and maybe brought out the better in us on the court.”
The Seahawks have won their three playoff matches since Lynch’s death to reach Saturday’s 10 a.m. Class 4A state championship match against A.C. Flora at the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center.
The Seahawks are trying to make it an even dozen state titles for Lynch posthumously. He won eight titles with the Myrtle Beach girls and three with the boys. “He already has 11, but I know this one means a lot to him,” said senior John Ed Cahill, one of Lynch’s three grandsons on the team.
Myrtle Beach High athletics director John Cahill is Lynch’s son-in-law, and he and the former Te-Anne Lynch have five sons.
But while John Ed and two of his brothers, freshman Rivers and seventh-grader Nolan, are on the team this season, and Lynch’s four daughters all played for him, all of his current and former players have always been family.
This season’s group was particularly close to Lynch because they all grew up with his grandsons, and he would pick many of them up from their elementary and middle schools and bring them to practice or other places.
“He brought us to practice, he brought some of us to church, he brought some of us to high school games,” John Ed Cahill said. “Whenever we needed a ride or a friend he was there. . . . We’d go hang out with him, go to the movies, he was just a great guy.”
Lynch was a driver’s education instructor, and he’d sometimes pick up the kids with a student driver. “I used to wait for him at the end of the hall every day at the elementary school,” Vaught said. “I’d see him come around the corner and I knew it was time to go.”
Vaught’s tattoo has a tennis ball for the ‘o’ in coach. “I actually never thought I’d get one, but I thought about it and if I was ever going to get one I wanted to put something on there that meant something to me, and coach obviously was a big part of my life,” said Vaught, who shared the “LL Coach” motto in a team group chat and it became a hashtag and was adopted by his teammates.
The Myrtle Beach tennis family has seemingly grown over the past couple weeks, as the community has rallied behind the team, presumably to both support the players and show their appreciation for Lynch.
While the team was accustomed to playing in front of a few dozen supporters at the Myrtle Beach Tennis Center this season, more than 500 have attended each of their three playoff victories.
“I think the community has helped us overcome our grief,” John Ed Cahill said.
In addition to being vocal, several groups have provided food and drinks for the team. “The last two weeks have been challenging, but it has been humbling to see the support,” John Cahill said.
On a mission
The Seahawks had a first-round bye and persevered through heartache to defeat defending state champion Hilton Head 6-0 in the second round two days after Lynch’s death on April 28, avenging a playoff loss last season.
They played their next match just a few hours after attending the funeral service at First Presbyterian Church against South Aiken, a team they considered their biggest obstacle to reaching the state finals.
Four of the singles matches went to third-set tiebreakers and Seahawks won three of the four, including both John Ed and Rivers Cahill, and they captured the No. 2 doubles match to seal a 4-2 victory.
“It was an emotionally tiring day, going from all of us feeling very bad at the funeral to coming out here and trying to get fired up,” John Ed Cahill said. “. . . It was tough going from probably the worst morning of my life to one of the best evenings of my life, beating South Aiken.”
John Ed Cahill said a quick prayer prior to his tiebreaker, and lost the first two points before running off the next 10 for a win. “I felt like he was there with me during those last 10 points,” he said.
Rivers Cahill also reflected on his grandfather while winning his tiebreaker. “I was just thinking try as hard as you can for coach,” he said. “Don’t let any point go and don’t give them any easy points, just give it your all for coach.”
The Seahawks overwhelmed Beaufort 6-0 in the state semifinals Monday, winning five of the matches in straight sets to move within one win of honoring Lynch with his first state title in a decade.
“I feel that’s the best way to do it right there,” Vaught said. “Even if something happened and we didn’t win, I feel he would still be proud of us. We’re just going to go out there and play our best and bring it home.
“. . . We’re going to win, there’s no doubt.”
The team will have a sendoff to the state championship match at 12:15 p.m. Friday at the school, and the public is invited to attend. Team members will walk through rows of students to board buses and head to Cayce.
Since 2004, A.C. Flora has won three titles and been a runner-up four times in either Class 3A or 4A, most recently finishing second in 4A in 2017.
The Myrtle Beach boys won three state titles under Lynch, but the last was in 2009 – after which Lynch retired before returning in 2017 to coach the program for the past three seasons.
Jeremy Finger has replaced Lynch as the head coach after serving as a volunteer assistant to him for the past three seasons. Finger’s son, Elliott, is on the team.
Lynch led the Myrtle Beach girls to eight state titles – six from 1990-96 and two from 1997-99 – and the boys to three from 2006-09.
Win or lose Saturday, the team will take much more than a championship or runner-up trophy from their time with Lynch, who was tirelessly positive.
“He was motivational,” John Ed Cahill said. “Growing up, if I did something wrong I would say, ‘What would coach want me to do?’ Just trying to follow whatever he does. If there is an example of a leader, it was by far Rivers Lynch. I loved him more than any other person in this world.”
Lynch’s last teaching moments in the week of practices leading into the playoffs focused on the players becoming better teammates. His messages were never centered on winning or losing.
“If he were here today he’d be more proud of the way we’ve come together as a team,” John Ed Cahill said. “The week before he passed away all he talked about was how to be good teammates. Every single day he’d come out here and he’d have just about 15 quotes on a sheet of paper, and almost every single one of them was about your attitude or team.”
His players have shown they were paying attention to Lynch’s advice and lessons over the years.
“The kids are really resilient and they’ve been role models for us all,” John Cahill said. “It has been humbling and overwhelming to watch the kids just as a team grow and work together and play the game of tennis. It’s their happy place.”
Perhaps it still is for one other as well.
“I know he’s super happy right now,” John Ed Cahill said. “He’s smiling down with that famous coach Lynch smile, and he’s going to keep on smiling come Saturday.”