The defending Class 4A state champion North Myrtle Beach volleyball team prefers finishing first, but a recent string of runner-up finishes has the Chiefs excited about a state title repeat.
North Myrtle Beach swept visiting Hartsville in a showdown for first place in Region 6-4A on Tuesday, 25-8, 25-27, 25-12, for its 20th win of the season, improving to 20-6 overall and 5-0 in league play midway through the region schedule.
But the Chiefs are using a different type of measuring stick - a series of big-time weekend tournaments throughout the state - to prove themselves against the cream of the crop in South Carolina.
"I know, we keep finishing second but (the tournaments) definitely help us get better," said North Myrtle Beach senior libero Katelin Downey. "We don't have a lot of competition in the region this year so playing against some of the tougher teams in the state is a challenge that prepares us for the playoffs."
After finishing a strong second to North Carolina power Marvin Ridge in their own season-opening Border Battle, the Chiefs overcame a week off from Hurricane Dorian to make strong showings in a pair of prestigious September tournaments. They went 5-1 in both events, including wins over top Class 5A programs.
North Myrtle Beach lost to River Bluff in the final of the Hub City Classic in Spartanburg, then avenged the defeat in the semifinals of last weekend's Wildcat Invitational. North Myrtle Beach fell in a hard-fought final to tournament host and Class 5A power Lexington.
"Those tournaments have really helped us out in terms of good competition," said North Myrtle Beach coach Alex Sing, who has been hoping his players could raise to the top level after losing two key seniors off last year's squad. "We've been able to work some things out and we're ready to go defend our (region and state) title."
North Myrtle Beach has had little trouble defending the former, sweeping all five region foes by 3-0 scores. Traditionally challenged by fellow 4A power Myrtle Beach, which suffered a 3-2 loss to Hartsville last week, the Chiefs have had to look outside the league to be pushed.
They welcome rival Myrtle Beach for Senior Night and their final regular-season home match Tuesday, Oct. 8, before facing one more major tournament - the Oct. 11 Wando Invitational - and starting their state title repeat run.
"The Wando tournament will definitely get us ready for the playoffs," Sing said. "We will see Hilton Head and some other 4A schools that we will probably meet in the playoffs, so this will be a good tuneup for the postseason."
"We talk about it a lot, almost every day," Downey said of the team's state title talk. "That's been our goal ever since we won it last year. Let's go win it again."