The 2014-2015 high school athletic calendar had its share of highlights and memorable moments.
New faces made names for themselves on the fields and sidelines, teams rose up the charts – some for the first time – and there was plenty of team and school-wide success.
Below are The Sun News’ most influential story lines from the year.
Filling the job
First-year head coaches in football made strides last fall.
Robby Brown, who originally didn’t apply for the job when it opened last spring, took over a St. James program that has had few wins in its brief history and started to show signs of improvement. The Sharks won their regular-season finale against Lake City and the enthusiasm he brought to the team was undeniable.
Likewise, Carolina Forest’s first-year coach, Marc Morris, immediately made the Panthers a team to watch by changing up an offense that had relied almost exclusively on the pass for three years.
Carolina Forest still had some of the same struggles it had faced against established programs. But some high-scoring games against North Myrtle Beach, St. James and Sumter and exciting finishes against South Florence and Conway were positive signs for the future.
Away from the gridiron, there were also major shake-ups atop two of the biggest schools’ athletics departments. Conway’s Chuck Jordan and Carolina Forest’s Boe Rainbow resigned their positions as athletics directors. It set off a pair of searches for their replacements that required three interim athletics directors (two at Carolina Forest and another at Conway). The Tigers will open the 2015-2016 school year with Marion Shaw in charge of the program, although it is unclear exactly how long that will be necessary.
At Carolina Forest, Tripp Satterwhite has already started his new role, having followed both Shaw and Roger Dixon, who held down the fort in Rainbow’s absence.
The interim tag, though, is nothing new. St. James used that title for Brown, who was eventually given the school’s football job full-time after the 2014 season concluded.
Socastee makes successful jump
For the first time since 2003, Socastee’s athletics program was a member of Class AAAA.
The Braves sure didn’t perform like a school new to the state’s largest class.
Behind a number of teams boosted by experienced seniors – many of whom played major roles in Class AAA success last year – nearly every Socastee team at least qualified for the playoffs. Once there, several teams found better-than-expected finishes.
Both boys and girls swimming finished top-16 in the state. Fellow fall and winter sports teams girls tennis, volleyball and wrestling each won at least one playoff match, and 120-pound senior Justin Knipper won a state wrestling individual title.
The wins kept coming in the spring, too. The boys and girls lacrosse teams qualified for the postseason, and baseball, boys tennis and boys and girls soccer won Region VI-AAAA championships.
Some of the success could be attributed to scheduling in prior seasons. For the most part, the Braves were already competing against teams from Region VI-AAAA. It made the move up in class a bit less stressful, and Socastee took advantage.
Aynor makes history
Sandie Jones played for the last coach who brought Aynor a state softball title.
The current Blue Jackets coach can now say she’s earned one, too.
Courtesy of a high-powered offense and some crucial victories in the final month of the season, Aynor won the Class AA championship with a best-of-three title series win over Andrew Jackson. It came 25 years after the school’s Class A championship under Susan Chandler, Jones’ former coach.
The Blue Jackets, though, weren’t winning games based on history. In fact, it would be hard to argue that all this year’s talent didn’t come together at just the right time.
Furman signee and catcher Hannah Seaver may have produced the most noise during the regular season and playoffs, when she batted north of .550 and piled up RBIs and home runs. There was also second baseman Shelby Cox, pitcher Brooke Elliott and a number of others who had major offensive or defensive outputs throughout the season.
It culminated in the championship, a celebration with the mayor and a moment Aynor hasn’t experienced in some time.
Lacrosse takes biggest step
When Socastee and Waccamaw added lacrosse in 2010 and 2011, respectively, they were little more than test cases to see if it could work on the Grand Strand.
At the time, the Braves roster was filled with athletes at a handful of other in-county schools. Despite having more than enough Northeastern transplants, some didn’t know if the newest sanctioned South Carolina High School League sport would even work here.
But could schools, some that struggle to often fill rosters in other sports to hold a full scrimmage, support another sport? Horry County Schools gave Carolina Forest, St. James and Myrtle Beach the opportunity to prove lacrosse could work here on a larger scale.
Those three schools joined Socastee and Waccamaw with boys and girls teams starting in the spring of 2015. And while only the Socastee boys and girls and Carolina Forest girls made the playoffs, it was only the beginning.
After all, the vote to formally approve the teams went to the Board of Education after the 2014-2015 school year began.
HCS Director of Student Affairs Daryl Brown said just prior to the vote that he was “excited about trying something different.”
Now, the five schools and 10 teams with lacrosse can build something successful together.
Biggest game of the year
It would be hard to argue that any game played locally this year had as much anticipation as the St. James-Myrtle Beach boys soccer match in the Lower State finals in May.
Both teams spent a portion of the regular season ranked in the top five of the Class AAA state polls, the Seahawks edged the Sharks by a one-goal differential tiebreaker for the region title and then both teams won their first three playoff games to set up the state semifinal.
The game itself didn’t hold all that drama for long. St. James, behind three goals from freshman Luke Williams and two more from Quadarius Grate, rolled to a 5-1 victory. It sent the Sharks to the Class AAA finals, and although they lost to A.C. Flora in that game, it didn’t diminish what the previous match meant to soccer fans around the area.
Why wait? 2016 football commitments
After a relatively quiet year in terms of local football players heading off to play NCAA Division-I programs, the area already has three Class of 2016 players verbally committed to programs at that level.
Conway receiver Bryan Edwards, who received his first Southeastern Conference scholarship offer at 13 years old, said he would be a South Carolina Gamecock after his time with the Tigers is over. Since the commitment, he’s gone on to earn more recognition, earning a spot in Nike’s elite “Opening” program in Oregon in July.
Myrtle Beach’s top two offensive weapons also didn’t wait until the end of their junior years to make their intentions known.
Quarterback Drayton Arnold made a May commitment to Conference USA school Old Dominion. Just eight days later, running back Brandon Sinclair also said he was going to be a Monarch.
Until the three sign their letters of intent in February (or graduate in December and enroll early), those plans could change. However, the consensus among recruiting analysts is that each of the three have nowhere to go but up.
Former stars continue making news
A number of the biggest high school athletes the Grand Strand has seen in the last decade or so kept their names on the front of our minds throughout the past year.
Former Myrtle Beach quarterback Everett Golson led the national talking points, first as a Heisman hopeful in his first year back at Notre Dame and then via his announcement that he would transfer and enroll at Florida State for his final college season.
Former Seahawk hoop stars Ramon Sessions and Khadijah Sessions also made their marks on already top-notch careers. Ramon Sessions, now with Washington, helped the Wizards to the playoffs and even scored a postseason single-game career-high 21 points during the team’s series loss to Atlanta.
Khadijah Sessions was a starter for a South Carolina program that won the Southeastern Conference title, was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and made the Final Four.
Aynor and South Carolina offensive lineman T.J. Johnson moved up from the practice squad to earn playing time for the Cincinnati Bengals. Former Carvers Bay All-State football player Clayton Geathers parlayed his big-time career at Central Florida into a spot at the Senior Bowl and was drafted in the fourth round by the Indianapolis Colts.
Conway Tiger-turned-Coastal Carolina Chanticleer G.K. Young started bashing home runs like he did in high school and was an important piece in Gary Gilmore’s squad making the NCAA tournament.
And Marisa Runyon, the most decorated athlete to come out of Carolina Forest, was named a third-team NFCA All-American after leading the Alabama softball team in home runs and RBIs and back to the College World Series.
Contact IAN GUERIN at email@example.com.