Strand’s top 5 chances to snap winter sports spell

The high school winter sports season hits the home stretch this week with the start of the SCHSL state playoffs, and Grand Strand area teams are looking to end a cold streak.

Although the Strand is known for producing state champions in the fall and spring sports, it’s been seven long years since an Horry County school claimed an SCHSL team state title in a winter sport (Myrtle Beach girls basketball, 2011), and even longer for boys basketball (Myrtle Beach, 2008) and wrestling (Loris, 2010).

However, there are several local teams poised to make deep playoff runs and scratch the seven-year itch by bringing home the big prize. Here’s a look at the area’s five best chances for a state champion:

1) Conway boys basketball

The No. 2-ranked Tigers have all the ingredients of a state title contender (senior leadership, veteran coach, size, strength, talent) except for one – championship experience. Conway has little recent tradition to draw upon, as this year’s team is the first 20-game winner since 1980, but the Tigers can make some school history with a special group.

Providence commit Jimmy Nichols, Darren Grainger and Jaylen and Juwan Moody are among Conway’s six seniors, and longtime coach Michael Hopkins has the experience to get his team ready for formidable foes. The Tigers will have to battle their way to Columbia as the No. 2 seed.

2) Myrtle Beach girls basketball

This year’s Lady Seahawks weren’t expected to make their annual challenge for a Class 4A championship after losing five seniors last season. But with the Region 7-4A title already clinched and home-court advantage secured through the first two rounds, don’t be surprised if Myrtle Beach is back in its usual position of a state-title contender.

Seniors Ivy Collins and Janell and Jalah Horton have set the tone for teammates like juniors Ajia Kelly and Asia Smith to forge a team under the fire of a tough schedule. They swept series with region foes and Top 10 teams Wilson and North Myrtle Beach. Coach Jennifer Dennison is focusing on the “one game at a time” approach with her surging squad.

3) Loris boys basketball

The No. 4-ranked and undefeated Lions feel they have some unfinished business after being knocked out in the second round of last year’s playoffs. This year’s team still has a chip on its shoulder and has taken the first step to playoff longevity by claiming the Region 6-3A title and No. 1 seed.

The Lions are loaded with senior leadership behind Kevon Drayton, Derick Grisset and Travis Walters, and juniors Jahrique Isaiah, Savien Soles and Malik Mcrae have provided quality depth that can go a long way in the postseason.

4) Carolina Forest girls basketball

The Lady Panthers dominated their way to the Region 6-5A title, their first in nine years, and showed true toughness in last week’s 56-54 victory over visiting Conway to clinch the crown. Carolina Forest will have the rare opportunity to play at home through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The senior trio of Alexis Tomlin, Cheyenne Pyles-Moultrie and Ellen Nardella gives the Panthers a balanced inside-outside threat that will be difficult for other teams to stop. Coach Stacey Hughes has her team playing inspired basketball at just the right time.

5) Wrestling

All Horry County teams have been eliminated from the SCHSL state duals, but there are several local wrestlers still in the hunt for individual titles in their respective weight classes, including the North Myrtle Beach Chiefs’ veteran lineup of Brennan Michael (152), Rahsaan Vereen (170), Curtis Wolfe (195) and Kwame Livingston (285).

Carolina Forest also has a strong contingent of contenders in P.J. Wunderlich (126), Corey Conover (145), John Winzenried (160), and Myrtle Beach has a pair of big men in the thick of a state title – Pedro Reyes (182) and Daniel Mitchell (195). St. James’ Ethan Mason (106), Conway’s Nazir Wynn, Loris’ Lorenzo Wallace (106) and Jaheem Myers (285) and Aynor’s Seth Davis (132) and Drake Carroll (182) are all wrestlers to watch.

Photo by Chuck Silvey

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