Athlete of the Week: Berkey brings soccer skill to tennis

Myrtle Beach High tennis standout Rachel Berkey finished her freshman season as the No. 12 ranked player on the team. She recently closed out her sophomore season as the Lady Seahawks No. 1 singles and doubles.

Her rapid ascent up the Lady Seahawks’ ladder saw her go 18-2 as Myrtle Beach’s No. 2 singles player all season. But on the bus ride to Hilton Head for the Lower State Final, she learned that regular No. 1 Jessie Dumas was sick and would be unable to play.

“I know if I could have put a heart meter on her she would have been scared, but she certainly didn’t show it,” said Myrtle Beach tennis coach Jeri Himmelsbach. “She said, ‘Yes ma’am, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.’ That’s the kind of kid she is. She cares about her teammates and they all admire her.”

Himmelsbach, who also coaches the JV soccer team, was familiar with Berkey’s athleticism and work ethic on the soccer pitch. The striker was already making a name for herself in soccer when she decided to give up basketball to focus on tennis, a sport she picked up at an early age from her family but didn’t take seriously until recently.

“I played tennis at the Dunes Club and for Will Bull at Prestwick, but I really wanted to play for the school team,” said Berkey, the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week. “I was No. 16 as an eight-grader and No. 12 as a freshman, then No. 2 this year. I just like playing tennis and I want to keep getting better.”

Himmelsbach wasn’t a bit surprised by Berkey’s quick success in tennis after seeing her make strides in soccer. Berkey was a big reason why Myrtle Beach won the Region 7-3A championship and advanced one step from the state finals.

“She is the total package,” Himmelsbach said. “She’s a great player, person and student. She is so fast and athletics and she has a sense of the game you can’t teach. She’s responsible, friendly and a good teammate. She will do anything I ask her to do.”

That includes a field promotion on the bus trip to Hilton Head, when Himmelsbach informed Berkey she would be going up against one of the top seniors in the state at No. 1 singles and playing No. 1 doubles with a new partner for the first time this year.

“We didn’t find out until we were on the way down, but it was OK,” Berkey said of the 5-1 loss in the Lower State Final. “I think it put a little more pressure on everybody because we all had to move up and face a tougher player, but it was a challenge and it was fun.”

It’s that competitive spirit that has Himmelsbach licking her chops at the thought of having Berkey back on the soccer pitch and tennis court for years to come.

“Rachel is a wonderful person to be around and she’s an inspiration to her teammates,” she said. “I’m blessed to have her in soccer and tennis. She has proved so much these past two years that I’m excited to see how much better she can get.”

Photo by Joel Beachum

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