No one can deny that 2019 was a heck of a year for sports in the Lowco. We had high school state champions galore — literally so many that we can’t count for fear we’ll miss one — high-profile coaching changes, outstanding individual achievements, and sadly, the loss of a couple of local sports legends.
Join us in reflecting on the past year in local sports news and revisit some of the top stories of 2019. And if you find yourself getting angry about the rankings, don’t bother. It’s just a year-end list. Your mileage may vary. (Oh, and read to the end.) #GoLOWCO!
#20 | Two Lowco baseball teams advanced to the Dixie World Series
A team from Bluffton had never won a Dixie Youth Baseball state championship … until 2019. Bluffton boasted two of the last four teams standing at the AA (8U) Machine Pitch State Championship, with the champion Bluffton American team winning the state title and advancing to the Dixie World Series in Ruston, Louisiana. Beaufort County also sent a team to the Dixie Junior Boys (13U) World Series in Aiken, though that team qualified for the World Series as the state runner-up.
#19 | Another first-time winner claims RBC Heritage’s tartan jacket
C.T. Pan rose from the ashes on a wild Sunday afternoon at Harbour Town Golf Links in April, coming from two shots back of 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson to prevail during a final round in which 19 players began the day within four shots of the leader.
#18 | Seahawks race to 6th girls XC title
After the state championship meet was delayed three days due to heavy rain that washed out the course, Hilton Head High’s girls claimed their sixth state title on the cross country course. It was also a good day for Beaufort High, as Marlon Belden finished second in the Class 4A boys race.
#17 | Seahawks win state, Ruckno 3rd in singles
Despite a roster that boasted only one senior — No. 4 player Sydney Hall — and no juniors, Hilton Head High breezed to a 5-1 win over Greenville High in the Class 4A state championship match this fall, potentially setting the stage for a dynasty. The Seahawks were led by freshman Emily Ruckno, who placed third in the state singles tournament after leading HHIHS to the state crown.
#16 | HHP girls win 7th title in 8 years
The Dolphins’ dynasty on the tennis courts continued in 2019 with HHP’s seventh state championship in eight years. The Dolphins lost only one match all season — a 4-3 defeat to crosstown rival Hilton Head High — and won their last 14 matches, including a dominant 6-0 win over Spartanburg Day in the state championship.
#15 | Jags runners-up again, Faber steps down
The second trip to the state championship game felt a lot like the first for Ridgeland-Hardeeville. And it ended up being the last for legendary coach Jeremiah Faber Sr. After guiding the Jaguars to a second straight Class 3A runner-up finish, Faber abruptly announced this fall he was stepping down, handing the reins to longtime assistant Kevin Wilson.
#14 | Creek softball wins first state title
Battery Creek claimed its first softball state title in the spring, and the Dolphins did so on their home field. The atmosphere was electric when the Dolphins clinched behind Alexis Ortiz’s clutch performance in the circle and at the plate. They’ll have a new coach when they try to repeat, though, as longtime Thomas Heyward coach Bob Layman replaced Chris Carr.
#13 | Lowco teams dominate the links
Not one, not two, not three, but FOUR area teams claimed golf state championships in 2019, including a clean sweep from Hilton Head Prep. The Dolphins not only won the boys and girls team titles in SCISA 2A, but they also boasted both individual champs — Sophia Burnett and JT Herman. Hilton Head High’s Derek Bunce also won individual state champion honors while leading the Seahawks to the Class 4A state title in May.
#12 | Lowco football standouts pile up honors
It has long been a widely-held belief that the Lowco doesn’t get its due when it comes to all-star and all-state nods, but maybe that will change considering the success area players had on the big stage in 2019. It started when the no-name standouts from the Lowcountry stunned the Coastal Empire’s big-name stars 35-34 in the second annual Blitz Border Bowl all-star game and continued into this season’s all-star competition. At every turn, stars from the area’s public and private schools alike have contributed to historic victories, perhaps paving the way for more Lowco stars to earn recognition in the future.
#11 | Frost makes national finals for Heisman HS Scholarship
Thanks to his impact on the field, in the classroom, and in the community, May River High School senior Melik Frost was one of six male national finalists for the Heisman High School Scholarship.
#10 | Gilman wins two state titles, continues career at Air Force Academy
HHIHS distance running standout Sam Gilman wrapped up his sensational career as a Seahawk with state titles in the 800 and 1,600 meter races at the state track meet, adding to an impressive resumé in 2019. Gilman earned All-America honors in indoor track and broke the state record in the mile before setting off for Colorado to continue his career, education, and service at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
#9 | BA volleyball caps emotion season with state title
Beaufort Academy breezed through six state tournament matches without dropping a set to claim the SCISA 1A title in October, capping an emotion season the Eagles dedicated to late teammate Anna Grace Dennis.
#8 | Back-to-back for Beaufort High track
The Eagles displayed their depth in their Class 4A title defense, outscoring their nearest competitor by 36 points and claiming three individual titles. It was the state-record 15th state championship for the program, but just the third since 1973.
#7 | Two in a row for THA
Thomas Heyward claimed a second straight SCISA 1A football title, and this time the Rebels did it in convincing fashion. Unlike last year’s undefeated campaign, though, this THA team dealt with its share of adversity and avenged a regular-season loss to Bethesda Academy in a dominant 30-6 win in the state championship game.
#6 | Pringle, DeMarzo headline area signings
A few thresholds have rarely been crossed by athletes from the Lowco in recent years, but two of them were obliterated within a few weeks this fall. Whale Branch hoops star Nick Pringle signed with Wofford, marking the area’s first NCAA Division I men’s hoops signing since … well, no one can quite remember. Then, Hilton Head High football standout Cole DeMarzo inked with Michigan State — Power Five signees have been relatively scarce around here.
#5 | Eagles hire from within after Holloman’s abrupt departure
Beaufort High’s head football coach job, one of the most stable in the county for nearly two decades, turned over for the second time in as many years in 2019, when DeVonte Holloman left after one season to take the same job at South Pointe, his alma mater. Holloman felt called to move home after the unexpected death of his younger sister. The Eagles promoted offensive coordinator Bryce Lybrand to the head role, and he led BHS to the region title in his first season.
#4 | Coaching legend Faulkner leads HHP boys to first hoops title in 28 years
Hilton Head Prep’s boys ended a drought of almost three decades with their SCISA 2A state title, adding another line to legendary coach Jerry Faulkner’s impressive resumé. The Dolphins’ 57-43 win over Shannon Forest in the state championship game was the 838th of Faulkner’s storied career.
#3 | May River emerges as a state powerhouse
If the second half of Year 3 and the first half of Year 4 are any indication, May River’s athletics department is going to be a force for quite some time. The Sharks continued their rise to statewide prominence with three team state championships in 2019 — the boys track & field and boys soccer teams won crowns within hours of one another in May, and the boys cross country team added a title this fall, while wrestler Ryan Humel became the program’s first individual state champion and earned Class 3A Wrestler of the Year honors. To cap off the impressive calendar year, the Sharks advanced to — and hosted — their first Lower State football championship game, falling two powerhouse Dillon.
#2 | The Lowco lost two sports icons in 2019
All good things eventually end, and the Lowcountry sports community was reminded of that the hard way in 2019 with the loss of two legendary figures in the local sports family. February brought the sad news of Al Stern’s passing, leaving a huge void in the local volleyball community. In July, the tennis community at home and around the world mourned the loss of legendary coach and longtime Hilton Head Island resident Dennis Van der Meer.
#1 | CJ Cummings stays on track for 2020 Olympics, Dade Stanley continues to rise in world ranks
If you’re wondering why this is in the top spot, consider this: Every one of the headlines linked below is from 2019. The mission of LowcoSports is to celebrate the successes of our local teams and athletes. Well, no team from the Lowco has produced more world-class talent than Team Beaufort Weightlifting, and no athlete from the Lowco has had more success on the world stage than CJ Cummings — at least not since Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Cummings had a banner year in 2019, but the best is yet to come for USA Weightlifting’s best hope in a generation, and Stanley appears poised to follow in his footsteps.
I knew this would happen. After making an initial list of 50+ stories worthy of being included in a roundup of the year’s biggest stories, then trimming and combining to get the list to 20, I lost a big one in the shuffle. And there are probably more. Rather than bump anyone off the list and reshuffle, we’ll just add them here.