CAROLINA FOREST — The Carolina Forest softball team is returning a ton of talent from its 2012 Class AAAA state runner-up season.
The Panthers, however, will be under the direction of a new coach.
Sarah Minchew, who took over the program prior to the 2008 season, said Thursday evening she is moving out of the area. She has resigned as the Carolina Forest coach, as well as her teaching position, effective the end of the school year.
“I told the girls today. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. It was pretty intense,” Minchew said. “I knew about a month ago. I didn’t want to tell the girls until the end of the season.”
Carolina Forest just had its best season in program history. The Panthers won Region VI-AAAA and then the district and Lower State titles in the postseason. They fell to Hillcrest in the deciding game of the Class AAAA state finals on Monday.
The team was ranked No. 2 in the final Class AAAA poll after its 24-4 season. Three days after the final game of the year, Minchew broke the news to her players.
“That was terrible. She sat us down in the locker room when we turned in our uniforms,” junior shortstop Marisa Runyon said. “We all just started crying and she was crying.”
Minchew graduated from Carolina Forest in 2000 and was a member of the school’s inaugural softball team during her playing days. As a coach, she led the team to the postseason all five seasons.
This year’s team loses four seniors, including catcher Caitlyn Hummel and pitcher Rachel Lembcke. Still, there should be a solid group of players capable of making another deep playoff run.
Runyon and classmate Sara Sweatt were both named Class AAAA All-State players last week. Rising sophomore Emily Merriam started 13 games at pitcher.
“I don’t think it’s going to be [easy],” Runyon said. “Losing a coach is definitely going to be hard. But with our abilities, we’re going to be able to stay together as a team.”
Runyon said she was happy Minchew decided to wait to tell the team, in part because it didn’t become a distraction.
Minchew’s husband, Mark, is also a teacher at Carolina Forest. She said he received a job that included an assistant football position at a school in the Columbia area, although she would not specify which school. Sarah Minchew said she is still weighing her professional options, and they include taking a year off from teaching and coaching to raise the couple’s second child, a girl born March 16.
Carolina Forest Athletics Director Boe Rainbow said Thursday evening he had yet to talk with Minchew regarding her decision, so he would not speak to possible replacement scenarios. Regardless, Minchew had a mindset of the school's ideal candidate.
“I think I want them to hire somebody that’s the real deal,” Minchew said. “I want them to bring somebody in for that position to have the same goals and vision that I had and do have for that program.
“I have a lot of pride in that program. The hardest thing I’ve had to do is tell the team that I’m not coming back.”