Friendly volleyball rivalry fuels title run for MB, NMB

Several local high school teams began their quests for a state volleyball championship last weekend, and there’s a strong possibility that the Class 4A crown once again will be decided along a short stretch of Highway 17.

Defending Class 4A state champion Myrtle Beach and reigning Lower State runner-up North Myrtle Beach took part in the Border Battle volleyball tournament against a strong field of state powers from North and South Carolina.

Although the two neighboring rivals didn’t meet head-to-head on the hardwood, the host Lady Chiefs emerged looking like the frontrunner by finishing in third place behind champion Wando and runner-up West Henderson (N.C.).  But the real “border battle” could prove to be the one divided by Briarcliffe Acres.

“This was just our second year (of the tournament) and we were able to bring in some really good teams,” said North Myrtle Beach coach Alex Sing, whose squad took Wando to a three-set thriller in the Gold Division final.

“We’re excited about the season. We have a lot of firepower back from last year, and you can tell the girls are focused. They got a small taste of it last year and our three seniors know it’s their last shot at it.”

Last year North Myrtle Beach narrowly missed out on a chance for their first state title since 2013 after losing in the Lower State final to Myrtle Beach, which went on to win the program’s first state championship.

The Lady Chiefs were left with the consolation prize of having defeated both the state finalists during the season. They beat Upper State champion Pickens in a tournament and took two showdowns with the Lady Seahawks.

“For the past six years the Lower State and State titles have come through the Grand Strand,” said Sing, who is in his second season with the Lady Chiefs. “When you have two good programs as rivals, it really pushes you.”

Ironically, Sing and Church have played major roles in transforming the area into a volleyball hot spot. Both have been involved in the Grand Strand Juniors club program, and they are now reaping the benefits with an influx of local talent

“When I started 19 years ago teams from the Hilton Head and Columbia areas would see us in the first round of the playoffs and be like, ‘OK, who do we play in the next round?’ ” Church recalled. “Now nobody wants to see us on their schedule.”

Along with other area high school teams, the Chiefs and Seahawks have stepped up their games with a steady stream of club-level players, like Myrtle Beach’s Gracie Davis and Caroline Brophy and North Myrtle Beach’s Kayla Henley and Raegan Matney.

“North Myrtle Beach is going to be very solid again this year, and there are some other tough teams like Hilton Head and Aiken in the Lower State,” Church said. “It’s a long season but it could come down to us two again.”

Sing certainly hopes so: “Larry and I are good friends and we support each other’s program. Until we play each other, I root for them to win. But when North Myrtle Beach plays against Myrtle Beach, it’s game on.”

Circle Sept. 11 on your calendar for that potential Lower State final preview. North Myrtle Beach had a hectic first week with road matches Tuesday at Socastee, Wednesday at St. James, and Thursday at Carolina Forest, which also competed in the Border Battle.

Myrtle Beach is off until the key showdown with the Chiefs. The Seahawks will hang their state banner in their opener on Sept. 18.

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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