High School Sports

Why North Myrtle Beach’s second consecutive state volleyball championship was no fluke

None of North Myrtle Beach’s playoff opponents this season will be able to argue bad luck, bad calls or unfortunate circumstances were responsible for their losses.

The Chiefs won with pure domination, capping off a perfect run through the postseason with a win over perennial state power Pickens in the Class 4A state championship match Saturday at River Bluff High School.

North Myrtle Beach won all four of its playoff matches without dropping a set, finishing off the program’s second consecutive state title by the scores of 25-19, 25-23 and 25-16.

“It has been that way in the playoffs. We’ve faced really good teams but we’ve played really well,” said four-year Chiefs coach Alex Sing. “We always say it like this: ‘We’re ready to run a marathon but if we can run a sprint that’s okay.’ ”

Pickens has now lost the past three state championships to teams from the Grand Strand, as Myrtle Beach defeated the Blue Flame in 2017 and NMB has defeated them in the past two.

The Chiefs won in four sets last year after dropping the first set.

“Whoever you’re going to match up against [in the state final] is going to be a good opponent, so you just want to make sure you’re prepared,” Sing said. “. . . We started playing our best volleyball at the end of the season, so as you could see we were ready to make it happen.”

After losing just two seniors to graduation after the 2018 state title, nine Chiefs won the title Saturday in their last opportunity in high school.

“It’s probably one of the best feelings in the world knowing that our team played together and it was our last game and we just finished the best we could,” said senior Raegen Matney, the S.C. Class 4A Player of the Year. “Especially winning back to back, which is great.”

The Chiefs finished the season 34-10, with five of the losses coming to Nation Ford and Lexington, which played for the 5A title following NMB’s win, and the rest coming against other Class 5A opponents. The Chiefs didn’t run across Pickens again until Saturday.

“Playing Pickens again was special because we played them last year and we didn’t get to play them at all this season,” said senior Jennings Hall, who will play next season at East Carolina.

Pickens has been a state power for the past three decades, primarily in Class 3A. The Blue Flame have won 13 Class 3A or 4A state titles and finished as the state runner-up an additional six times since 1988.

When the teams were in 3A, they faced each other in the 2012-13 state championship matches, with NMB winning in 2012 and Pickens winning in 2013.

That was when the Chiefs joined Pickens as a team that will be heard from just about every year in the playoffs.

“It takes a lot of time in the gym, a lot of work, a lot of great talent on a team, and still you need a few things to fall your way,” Sing said. “We played a tough schedule. We prepared ourselves all season. We wanted to be back, and you could tell by the way they played.”

NMB’s two losses to graduation last year were Kayla Henley and Sydney Bellamy, who are now playing at Middle Tennessee State and Lander, respectively.

In addition to Hall and Matney, the seniors who are going out state champions this season are sisters Jenna and Jordan Berger, Katelin Downey, Delaney Fullum, Lauren Leonard, Jayna Livingston and Kaydee Runion.

Junior hitter Anna Rabon will be among the leaders of next year’s team, which one would think would be in a rebuilding mode.

But expectations have risen at North Myrtle Beach with consecutive titles.

“Why not us? That’s our motto since freshman year,” Hall said. “If anybody is going to win this set, win this point, win this game, why not us?”

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Alan Blondin covers golf, Coastal Carolina athletics and numerous other sports-related topics that warrant coverage. Well-versed in all things Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the Grand Strand, the Northeastern University journalism school valedictorian has been a sports reporter at The Sun News since 1993, earning eight top-10 Associated Press Sports Editors national writing awards and 18 top-three S.C. Press Association writing awards since 2007.