The COVID-19 virus has played havoc on high school athletics over multiple seasons for every sport. Once the pandemic started in full force in the early part of 2020, the South Carolina High School League reacted as did much of the rest of the country — they shut down all the spring sports after just a couple of weeks. That eventually led to all spring sports seasons being canceled for the remainder of the school year.
The following 2020-21 school year also offered a unique set of challenges. Cancellations were common, but all sports were able to have a complete season and crown state champions. The biggest difference came in the form of the postseason. The selected field was shortened, essentially eliminating one round of the postseason play.
In 2021-2022, a welcomed normal returned, and each sports season was completed with very little interference. The playoffs expanded back to the normal levels, and state champions were crowned. This return to normalcy has given several teams and individuals from the Midlands a chance to grab the spotlight once again.
The school year began with girls’ golf handing out state championship medals. The Midlands took away the team honors as well as the individual award in Class 5A. Isabella Rawl of Lexington was the individual winner when she shot a 137 to win the title by one stroke. Blythewood took home the team title, easily beating out second-place Chapin by 47 strokes. Blythewood’s team consisted of Caroline Hawkins, Elizabeth Madden, Paige Paolucci, and Ella Staley. They won all 11 events they played in, and it is the second state title in the last three years for the Bengals.
“It felt different this year,” says Blythewood coach Jason Minkel. “Not that it wasn’t as big a deal, not that the expectations were different. It was more of a perfect combo for our girls to cap the season. It was a great culminating event, the cherry on top.”
Swimming was the next sport to crown champions. The Midlands did not have any team winners, but several swimmers were able to capture gold in individual events. In Class 5A, Chapin’s Simon Thompson won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. Rhett Moore of Spring Valley captured the 200-yard freestyle title. River Bluff’s Matthew Swain won the 100-yard breaststroke. In Class 4A, A.C. Flora’s Darden Tate won the 50- and 100-yard breaststroke.
Cross-country was the next sport to take center stage. Lexington girls finished second overall in Class 5A and had three runners finish in the top 10. Kendra Miles was second, Laurel Walls was sixth, and Lydia Metz was eighth overall. A.C. Flora’s boys’ team finished third overall in Class 4A. Dreher’s Sam Kolowith was the highest Midlands finisher when he took third place.
A.C. Flora again had an outstanding girls’ tennis season. The Falcons reached the Class 4A state title before falling to Lucy Beckham in the finals. Frances Smith, Siona Sturgeon, and Helen Miller were a few of the standouts for A.C. Flora.
River Bluff volleyball made school history by advancing to the state championship for the first time. They had to overcome long-time nemesis Wando to get there, but they dropped the final match to Dorman to claim a runner-up finish.
“I’m super proud,” says River Bluff coach Bryan Piro. “They have nothing to be ashamed of or hold their heads down. They’re winners. They’re lower state champions. They have made history. We’ve accomplished a lot of firsts for River Bluff and volleyball and our program.”
Competitive cheer has proven once again to be a very strong sport in the Midlands. Chapin won the Class 5A title, giving the Eagles their 16th state cheer championship. Defending state champion Lexington was runner-up and River Bluff was third. “We are so excited to be back on top again,” says Chapin coach Vicki Williams. “After runner-up last year, the team was determined to bring the 5A title back to Chapin. The work ethic and determination of these young ladies was amazing.”
In Class 4A, A.C. Flora won the title with Airport finishing third and Irmo fourth. Gilbert tied with Wren for the Class 3A title but ended up as runner-up after the tiebreaker process.
Football closed the fall sports in 2021, and Gray Collegiate Academy was the big winner. The War Eagles won the Class 2A state title for the first time in school history with a 49-14 win over Silver Bluff. Gray Collegiate played a challenging schedule that included Camden, Oceanside Collegiate, and Class 5A powers Ridge View and Gaffney. The school just started playing football in 2014. “This is what I envisioned when I took over and tried to build an athletic program from scratch,” says Gray Collegiate coach Adam Holmes. “For us to be able to do it in the amount of time we did, it’s because of this amazing group of kids.”
Running back KZ Adams set a new state record with 3,343 rushing yards and totaled 50 touchdowns. The Georgia State signee also started at defensive back.
Dutch Fork overcame early season tragedy to reach the Class 5A state championship for the sixth straight season. They suffered the death of Jack Alkhatib in late August and mourned the loss of their teammate all season. The Silver Foxes had won five straight state championships and had an unbeaten streak of 62 games until their streak ended with a 22-19 loss to Gaffney in the state title game.
“It’s been a very long and tough year,” says Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts. “I’m proud of the way we battled about it and got here.”
Wide receiver Antonio Williams signed in December to play at Clemson.
Both boys’ and girls’ basketball once again proved that the Midlands is the place to be for top-flight action. On the girls’ side of things, the legend of Keenan and standout player MiLaysia Fulwiley continued to grow. The Raiders star, just a junior, has played in every state championship since her seventh-grade season. When they defeated Camden 60-58, that gave Keenan its third straight title overall and fourth in five seasons.
The championship was a highly touted matchup between the two teams as well as a game that featured two of the top players in the country — Fulwiley against the Bulldogs sophomore Joyce Edwards. Fulwiley finished with 41 points and 17 rebounds. Edwards went for 24 points, 14 rebounds, and eight blocks.
“As a fan, you had to enjoy it,” says Keenan coach Reggie McLain. “You had two good teams. You had two players, MiLaysia Fulwiley and Joyce Edwards, who are two of the best in our nation. They were talking about that game all year, No. 1 versus No. 2. They put on a good show for everyone.”
Ridge View boys and Gray Collegiate boys have also staked their claims to basketball dynasties. Ridge View won its fourth title in five seasons, this one coming on the Class 5A level for the first time. They won the Class 4A state championship from 2018 to 2020. Ridge View held off a comeback effort from Fort Dorchester in the 65-57 victory.
G.G. Jackson also showed why he was one of the most highly touted juniors in the country. The Blazers star committed to North Carolina in the spring. Coach Yerrick Stoneman completed his sixth season at Ridge View and has since been named head coach at national power Oak Hill.
“The kids have bought in and continue to work,” says Coach Stoneman. “One thing I can say about our program is that no one outworks us, especially in the Midlands.”
Dion Bethea has been the guiding force for Gray Collegiate to win four state titles in five seasons. The War Eagles defeated York Prep 56-53 for the Class 2A title and sent this senior class out the correct way. Bethea said it hurt in 2021 when that senior class went out without getting a championship ring in their final chance. “Those guys like Tim Barnes and Chase McDuffie, they weren’t sent out in the right way last year,” says Dion. “But we were able to send Tory Kelly, Calvin Hall, Malachi Cooper, and River Teeter out the right way. I’m happy for those seniors.”
A.C. Flora was the final basketball team to play for a state championship. The Falcons came up short in a 52-43 loss to Wilson in the Class 4A championship. Coach Joshua Staley, who guided A.C. Flora to three championship game appearances and one title since 2016, resigned at season end and is the new coach at Ridge View.
Boys’ golf was next up on the docket. A.C. Flora won its second straight title and 16th overall with a dominant performance in the two-day event. The Falcons won the Class 4A title by 45 shots with Luke Sullivan, Charles Cauthen, Adam Hunt, and Burch Harrison finishing second, third, fourth, and fifth respectively. “We talked about what we were capable of as a team. When we were driving back from the upper state tournament, I told them the only one who can beat us is us,” says coach Robert Dargan.
While the Midlands did not walk away with any championships for boys’ and girls’ soccer, the players still had a solid showing. Gray Collegiate was state runner-up after losing to Christ Church 2-0 in the championship of Class 2A. The Chapin boys added a state runner-up finish in Class 5A after a 2-1 loss to Riverside in the state title matchup. The Chapin girls made the state semifinals before losing to Wando.
Maybe the most successful venture of the entire school year came with the showing by Midlands athletes in the track and field championships. Spring Valley boys won the Class 5A overall championship. The Blythewood girls’ team finished as state runner-up, and Chapin was third in Class 5A.
“It’s awesome to come here and be a part of the Spring Valley tradition,” says Coach Matt Oberly. “We were fourth my first year, then COVID, and then fourth last year. We finally got over that hump and got that state championship. It’s awesome.”
The Vikings’ Mondell Hutto won the triple jump with teammate Evan Jarvis taking second. Spring Valley also won the 4x800 relay. Other winners in Class 5A boys include Chapin’s Duke Molinaro, who took gold in both the shot put and discus. Lexington’s Grant Goldsmith won the 800, and Blythewood’s Randy Kelly won the high jump for the second straight year. Blythewood seventh grader Peyton Hightower won the 200 and was second in the 400. The Bengals’ Briana Green won the gold medal in the long jump. The relay teams for Blythewood also captured first in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays. Kendra Miles, a seventh grader at Lexington, won the 1,600 and finished second in the 3,200. Spring Valley had an individual champion when Aaliyah Berry won the 100 hurdles. Chapin’s Evelyn Patrick won the 400.
Westwood sprinter Brianna Rodriguez was the big winner in Class 4A girls. She won both the 100 and 400 hurdles and also won the 200 sprint. She also was a member of the 4x400 team that finished first. Her performance helped the Redhawks to a second-place finish. Ticora Gaskins also won the 100 and long jump.
Dreher boys finished as runner-up in Class 4A. Sam Kolowith continued from his cross-country season by winning the 3,200. David Epps gave the Blue Devils multiple gold medal winners when he captured the 110 hurdles. Caleb Timmons took home silver in both the 100 and 200. Other boys’ gold medalists included A.C. Flora’s John O’Cain, who won the pole vault, and Micaiah Settles, who won the discus.
Brookland-Cayce sprinter Ian Myers showed why he’s already signed with Auburn. He won the Class 3A 100 and 200. Lower Richland’s Jurnii Lucas won the 400 hurdles and was second in the 110 hurdles. The Diamond Hornets also had Matthew Butler win the 400, and Lee Davis won the shot put. Lower Richland was the highest finisher in Class 3A with third place.
In Class 2A girls, Eau Claire’s TyQwasia Williams won the 110 hurdles and finished second in the 400 hurdles to lead the Shamrocks to a fourth-place finish. Columbia’s Tmoni Porterfield won the long jump and finished second in 100, 200, and 400.
In Class A, C.A. Johnson boys finished third overall and had individual winners in Jaevon Riley (high jump and 400 hurdles) and Devron Davis won the 100.
Baseball and softball were still finishing up at press time. Gray Collegiate baseball along with Lexington and Gray Collegiate softball were playing in the best two-of-three state championship the final week of May. The War Eagles baseball team faced Andrew Jackson for the Class 2A title. Lexington softball was set to play Fort Mill for the Class 5A title. Gray Collegiate softball faced Latta for the Class 2A title. It was the first time in school history that Gray Collegiate baseball and softball had reached the state championship.
Blythewood, Lexington, A.C. Flora, Airport, and Brookland-Cayce all reached state semifinals in baseball.
Congratulations to all of the dedicated athletes who worked so hard and have made all of us in the Midlands so proud!
Editor’s note: Congratulations to Sarah Gordon, Lexington Softball’s senior catcher, who was named Gatorade Player of the Year for SC, the third person to ever win the award from the Midlands.