This weekend, we’ve reached the end of a high school sports season unlike any other we’ve seen. As we entered the dying days of summer in early August, I had no idea how far we’d get. But after amazing work by coaches, student-athletes, administrators, and fans adhering to the many difficult challenges that the last eight-plus months had to offer, we’ve completed a memorable year filled with some phenomenal accomplishments. As we cross the finish line of 2020-21, let’s take some time to recap the incredible moments that made this year a special one here in the Lowcountry.
When I walked in to cover the first high school football game of the year at Hilton Head Christian Academy, I wasn’t sure how many games we would even get last fall. That first game was the start of a magical, undefeated run for Ron Peduzzi’s Eagles. Fueled by the dynamic two-headed monster of quarterbacks Jace Blackshear and JP Peduzzi, HHCA toyed with the competition all the way to a 12-0 record and a state title after coming so close a year ago.
But the Eagles weren’t the only Lowco football squad to take the crown. It was another coronation for the SCISA 1A kings in 2020, as the Thomas Heyward Rebels captured their third consecutive championship. Peyton Bennett was spectacular as the signal-caller during his senior year, Bruzza Pusha used his stellar speed to thrive at wide receiver, and JR Patterson tore apart defenses on the ground all year long. Brandon Howard added a key piece to an unstoppable D, powering the Rebels to another dominant state championship campaign for head coach Nic Shuford.
Ahmad Green was magical again for May River, but Beaufort High neutralized the star with an incredible performance by Eamon Smalls and the defensive line while Tyler Haley lit it up through the air to propel the Eagles all the way to the final eight and a near-upset of Myrtle Beach.
But the greatest story of the fall was the Hilton Head High volleyball team. Led by HHCA transfer and middle hitter Ady O’ Grady, the Seahawks completed a dominant run all the way to a Class 4A state title while wearing masks and setting a perfect example of how to succeed as a team in a very challenging time.
As the calendar turned to December, the stars on the court and the mat took the stage. It looked like a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the year, but Hilton Head Christian Academy’s girls conjured up another spectacular season to finish off a three-peat. Dior Shelton dominated inside the paint and was a monster on the defensive side, while the speed and shooting ability of Devon Yarde and Molly Smith alongside the clutch play of Abby Peduzzi built the Lady Eagles into a juggernaut once again.
Mike’Ala Washington and the Beaufort Academy Eagles were right on the doorstep of challenging HHCA, and Tacoya Heyward’s crafty play and stellar defense led Bluffton to a region championship.
But the story of the year came out of Hilton Head Island. In his second season at the helm of the Seahawks, Chane Brown landed Ohio phenom Will McCracken to add to a strong core of Sam Summa, Alex Smith, Jaylen Sneed, and Adam Clark. The Seahawks, who became known as “Dunk Island,” delivered the greatest season the program has ever seen. With the incredible McCracken leading the way, Hilton Head High dunked on the competition all the way to the state championship game. It was a devastating ending as the title slipped away in the final moments, but the Seahawks made us all proud with an inspirational run during a long and hard winter.
The May River Sharks put together a special run of their own on the wrestling mat, as Eli Hall and company captured the Lower State championship before Hall picked up an individual state title to cap off a legendary high school career and teammate Gabe Juarez joined him atop the podium. Zao Estrada showed us all her incredible skills with a phenomenal season for the Seahawks, and James Levy finally claimed his sought-after individual state title in his senior year.
Then came the part of the year that meant the most. After things were suddenly cut short in 2020, our amazing spring student-athletes got the full season they deserved. We saw impressive performances across the board over the last few months, but especially from Beaufort High. The Eagles dazzled on the tennis court, as coach David Riedmeyer guided the program’s first-ever trip to the state championship match. Then seventh-grader Graeme Angus stole the show in state singles, picking up four victories and earning all-state honors.
Meanwhile, 10th grader Jerry Bruns tore it up on the golf course, earning a spectacular second-place finish for himself and third for his team at the state finals at Dolphin Head Golf Club. And the baseball team put together a Cinderella run of its own, coming back to take down May River for the district title before giving a heck of a battle to an outstanding James Island team.
We had state champions galore this spring, and it meant so much more to those who earned the glory. Holy Trinity’s boys and girls soccer team both won SCISA 1A titles. Hilton Head Christian Academy’s girls won it all in Rosa Smith’s first year as head coach with a resilient run to the SCISA 2A crown. The Hilton Head Prep boys tennis team dominated anyone that stood in its path en route to a sixth title in seven seasons. And a determined Colleton Prep softball squad led by sensational pitcher Haley Bootle bounced back from a tough Game 1 of the SCISA 2A championship series to vanquish Pee Dee Academy.
There were so many others who made this spring an extraordinary one. After Luke Kuechly gave a virtual pep talk to Hilton Head Prep baseball, Luke Foley and the unbeaten Dolphins stepped up their game to make it to the final four in a challenging SCISA 3A bracket to finish off an incredible 24-2 campaign.
The Hilton Head High girls lacrosse team put together a fantastic run to the state semifinals thanks to the clutch scoring of Anna Ferrebee and the leadership of our incredible senior intern Brooke Simons. And there were a ton of talented track and field athletes that rose to the occasion with standout performances on the biggest stage of the season.
There’s so much that we’ve left out from this incredible athletic year, but we’ll be honoring all our fantastic student-athletes with our All-Lowco teams coming out this summer. After so much uncertainty this past fall, it’s been an amazing year at LowcoSports.com, and we can’t wait to find out what 2021-22 has in store.
By Wes Kerr