In a season unlike any we’ve seen, they came together, fought, and persevered like never before. And now they’re coming home state champions.
The Hilton Head High volleyball team was tested, but the Seahawks came through when the moments were the biggest to defeat Pickens in four sets and capture the 2020 SCHSL Class 4A state championship.
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“This is the best feeling in the world,” senior Brooke Simons said. “To see all the hard work and long hours pay off with a state championship win is surreal and I feel so incredibly lucky.”
It’s their first 4A triumph, and the second championship for head coach Garrett Talarczyk after defeating Eastside for the Class 3A title in 2015.
This one was back-and-forth right from the start. After trading the first several points in the opening set, the Blue Flame found their groove, building a 20-16 lead. But the Seahawks knew they weren’t planning on dropping the first set for the third straight match. Instead, they stepped their game up.
It was their new star who led the comeback. Former Hilton Head Christian Academy Eagle Ady O’ Grady rattled off four points to bring her squad right back in it. After a tough tipped ball call went against Hilton Head, Talarcyck rallied the team and Abby Jacobs went to work, putting away two crucial points before O’ Grady shut the door and finished off a dramatic 27-25 win. It was the first time Pickens had lost a set since Oct. 10.
“We stayed mentally tough,” said O’ Grady. “We are very good as a team at not letting being down affect us. We know how to come back and stay calm and work until the end no matter what.”
That momentum carried right over to the second set, as the Seahawks opened on a 7-2 run with contributions from all across the lineup. But a couple missed serves and clutch hits from Pickens sophomore Lauren Dow closed the gap. After a Callie Covey rejection and a Dow kill, the ‘Hawks saw their lead vanish completely. But they kept fighting. It was a neck-and-neck duel between Dow and O’Grady, but the ‘Hawks stayed composed and limited the mistakes. A brilliant back corner find by O’Grady along with some misplays by the Blue Flame were enough to give Hilton Head another close set 25-23 and a commanding two-set lead.
“We haven’t had that much competition throughout the season and we knew it was going to be a battle,” O’Grady said. “We didn’t get rattled with the back and forth points. We played our game and stayed on top. We trained and were ready for the battle and kept the right mindset to battle back and forth but end up with the victory.”
Pickens certainly wasn’t going to quit, and caught the Seahawks napping early in the third to grab five of the first six points. Despite another big frame from O’ Grady, unforced errors plagued the ‘Hawks from making any big runs, and the Blue Flame kept their hopes alive, taking the third set 25-18.
The pressure was all on the Seahawks to respond. They did that and more. On the strength of Kenzie Ryan, the ‘Hawks came out flying in the fourth, picking up a pair of blocks and a service ace to take an enormous 7-1 lead. Then Mia Fotia and Jacobs joined the block party. O’ Grady could not be contained in the middle of the court, smashing down ball after ball. If she wasn’t there, it was Ryan punishing the Blue Flame for any free ball sent her way. All of a sudden, the Hawks were on the doorstep at 21-11.
But a couple mishits and violations brought the Upper State champs right back in the match. After the lead was cut to two, there was some real anxiety on the Seahawk bench. But like they’ve done all season long, they overcame the odds. Ava Edri nailed two outstanding shots, one to the deep right corner of the court and the other off the net and down after some amazing hustle to keep the play alive. And then, the reigning All-Lowco Player of the Year delivered the final blow. O’Grady, the piece that put this unstoppable squad over the top, spiked it right down the middle to give the Seahawks the state title.
“Ending the last point of the game was crazy,” O’Grady said. “I knew every time I touched the ball I wanted to kill it to get closer to those rings. Watching my last hit of the season hit the ground was such a good feeling, I fell straight to the ground in shock and happiness. I’m so thankful for Coach T pushing me until the end and having hope in our team. I knew we could do it and I’m happy we showed everyone and most importantly ourselves that we were more than capable.”
It’s been an amazing journey for a team that bonded together and never quit on one another. They faced challenges on and off the court, and these girls came through every time. For senior Brooke Simons, it couldn’t be sweeter after six years with the team. Without her early push for fellow student-athletes to wear masks and do the right things, who knows if the Seahawks would get to where they are now.
“This team is all about resilience and overcoming obstacles whether those obstacles are on the court or in life,” Simons said. “We didn’t even know if we were going to have a season six months ago and now we’re state champs!”
Story by Wes Kerr / Photo by Mary Beth Lyons
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