Larry Church's final match as Myrtle Beach High volleyball coach came in last week's loss in the Lower State Final to archrival and eventual Class 4A state champion North Myrtle Beach.
The scene, which featured top-level play in front of a packed gym, stands in stark contrast to his first day on the job 19 years ago, when the Lady Seahawks were far from a state power. In fact, they barely had enough players to field a beach volleyball side.
"My first day of practice we had two girls show up for tryouts," recalled Church, an MBHS alum. "I was thinking, 'What have I gotten myself into?' I told them to bring their friends and let's just play for fun. We ended up with nine players, and we weren't very good."
Despite the slow start, Church saw the potential not only for Myrtle Beach's program, but also for the entire Grand Strand. Eleven years ago, he and NMB coaching counterpart Alex Sing joined forces to form the Grand Strand Juniors volleyball club for area girls.
"Larry has done a great job of building Myrtle Beach's program and Grand Strand Juniors," said Sing, whose Chiefs have battled the Seahawks for the right to play for - and win - state titles the past two seasons. "He's had a big impact on volleyball in the area."
Church reached the pinnacle of his profession last season by leading the Lady Seahawks to their first state championship. He informed MBHS athletics director John Cahill that he would be stepping down after the 2018 season to spend more time with his two children.
"Coaching takes up a lot of time working with the girls in the fall," Church said. "I enjoy it, but I have an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old at home that want to play with their daddy too. I'm not going away. I will always be involved in (coaching volleyball)."
Church will continue to be involved in Grand Strand Juniors, and his free-agent status will allow him to work with several teams instead only Myrtle Beach. He is also considering launching a youth recreation volleyball program for youngsters before they reach high school and GSJ age.
"I've had some great players and made some great memories here," said Church, who has led the Lady Seahawks to one state title, three Lower State championships and several regional crowns during his tenure. "I'm sure I will miss it, but it's just time."