Jennings Hall

North Myrtle Beach's Jennings Hall scores in a scrimmage with Waccamaw High School as the Chiefs get ready for the season. North Myrtle Beach is hosting a tournament on Saturday. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The only thing harder than winning a state championship is defending it.

That's the message North Myrtle Beach volleyball coach Alex Sing is sending his team following the Chiefs' run to the 2018 SCHSL Class 4A title.

"Our tagline is to defend and repeat," Sing said, "but if we're going to do it we have to keep that same hunger that got us there last season."

The Chiefs are missing two key pieces from the state championship squad in stars Sydney Bellamy and Kayla Henley, but they return a solid corp. Seniors Raegan Matney, Jennings Hall, Kaydee Runion, Katelin Downey, Delany Fullum and twins Jenna and Jordan Berger are among the top returners.

"We lost Kayla and Sydney, but we have nine seniors and five juniors coming back," Matney said. "We've all been playing together for a long time and we know what it takes to win a state championship. We just have to go out and do it again. Winning one just makes you want to win another one even more."

Sing learned firsthand the difficulty of defending after leading Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach to the SCISA state championship in 2013. Coincidentally, that's the same season North Myrtle Beach won its only other state volleyball title. It took five years for both to win another.

"When you win a state championship people start to expect certain things, but the only thing that matters is how you perform on the court," Sing said. "Don't be the team that dwells on the past; go out and earn it. But the mindset of staying hungry and humble is hard to preach in practice."

The Chiefs don't have to wait long to put their new approach to the test. They host the Border Battle on Friday and Saturday, featuring some of the top teams from the Carolinas — Brevard, Hoggard, New Hanover, Marvin Ridge and West Henderson from North Carolina, and Porter-Gaud and Wando from South Carolina.

"The tournament is going to be a great way for us to find out where we are and what we need to work on," Matney said after the Chiefs swept a doubleheader scrimmage against St. James and Waccamaw. "Those are the type of teams we have to beat if we want to have a chance to win it all."

The road to the Class 4A state title is once again expected to run through the short stretch of Highway 17 between Little River and Myrtle Beach. The Chiefs and Region 6-4A rival Seahawks have met in the Lower State Finals the past two years, with the winner going on to claim the state title. The state powers meet in their region opener on Sept. 17 in Myrtle Beach.

In Region 6-5A, Carolina Forest, Socastee and St. James are projected to be in the hunt for a league title. The Panthers and Braves are scheduled to scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday at Carolina Forest. The Sharks defeated Waccamaw in their final scrimmage before opening the season Monday at West Brunswick, North Carolina.

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