Grand Strand area emerges as a volleyball powerhouse

cambvolley-2Up until a few years ago, the Grand Strand high school volleyball scene was but a blip on the radar screen for other South Carolina teams heading towards a state title. Now it seems any South Carolina team looking to win a state championship must pass through the Grand Strand.

Since 2011, the Grand Strand has had at least one team in a state final match. Myrtle Beach became the first area team to make a SCHSL state final. In 2012 North Myrtle Beach became the area’s first state volleyball champion in Class AAA.

That same year in the SCISA Class 1A ranks, Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach was state runner-up. Last season, North Myrtle Beach was state runner-up and Christian Academy became the area’s second state champion in as many years.

Carolina Forest has won Region 6-4A five years running and will be pushed by Socastee and Conway for the region title 2014. St. James, Myrtle Beach, and North Myrtle Beach will battle in Region 7-3A as volleyball action gets under way.

Here is a look at each area team and what to look for in 2014:

* CA of Myrtle Beach: After going 21-4 last season and making back-to-back trips to the state finals, coach Alex Sing’s Saints hopes to make it three in a row with an experienced squad. Several key players return, including All-Region players Rebekah Bowers, Claudia Markley, and Natalia Antonucci. Transfer AA All State player Margaret Braden Grafe, defensive standout Caroline Gore, senior starter Amelia Antonucci, senior Mary Chandler Butler, and sophomore Gray Williams round out the Saints.

* Carolina Forest: Looking for their sixth Region 6-4A Championship in a row, Carolina Forest coach Brittany Drew and the Panthers return eight letter winners – Seniors Megan Poplin and Jessica Lembcke, juniors Ellissa Smalls (All-state, Region Player of the Year) and Sydney Pollock, sophomore Megan Wert and freshman Alexis Tomlin (All Region Player), Lexi Watts, and Meghan Devaux. Rounding out the squad this year are senior Tiana Gomez, sophomores Kenzlie Andresen, Julie McKinney and freshman Cassie Runyon.  Carolina Forest is coached by Brittany Drew.

* Myrtle Beach: After going 13-4 and reaching the third round of the Class AAA playoffs, Myrtle Beach coach Larry Church and the Seahawks must move forward without four-year starter Shelby Sheets and two-year Nikki Uzzel. Myrtle Beach returns several key contributors in Maggie Slabinski, Kate Fullwood, Ally Bills, Gracie Davis, Lauren Dimauro, and Cheyanne Causey.

* North Myrtle Beach: Second-year coach Erica Allman has a rebuilding project on her hands after losing five key seniors, including four starters. Gone are stars Marci Chestnut, All-State player Ellen Johnson and Tara Hix. The Chiefs have six seniors but are an otherwise young and inexperienced team. Libero Lauren Linta (senior) and outside hitter Maggie Hash (sophomore) will hold down the offense. Maddie Roy (freshman) shows promise in her blocking ability out of the middle as Chiefs aim for their third straight region title.

* Socastee: The young Braves have another year of experience this season, returning five key players in Amber Venckus, Dale Rogers, Eden Dukes, Katelynn Hine, and Mary Duval Guest. Socastee added a couple of new players to help fill the void from the seniors that graduated and is looking forward to stepping up in competition this season in Class AAAA.

* St. James: After losing a few key players from last year’s team, St. James has key returners in outside hitters Courtney Settle and Mallory Farmer, as well as returning setter Jordon Walker and Libero Skylar Campbell. Key players to look for are Jacklyn Altman, Christian DuVall, Skyla Corey, Cameron Carol, and Natalee Stanton.

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