1. REGGIE KENNEDY IS BACK IN COLUMBIA
Kennedy returns to the Midlands as coach at Irmo after leading Sumter for two years and reaching last season’s Class 4A Division I championship game. His Gamecocks lost to Dutch Fork, but Kennedy earned national attention as a candidate for Neighborhood Awards Coach of the Year. He has coached at Blythewood and Fairfield Central. His staff includes best friend and former Dutch Fork assistant coach J.W. Montgomery.
2. WESTWOOD-BLYTHEWOOD REGION RIVALRY
With Westwood moving into Region 4-4A, the Redhawks will be squaring off against their cross-town rival Blythewood in every sport. These matchups will be for more than bragging rights with region standings and playoff berths on the line.
3. NEW STADIUM FOR BROOKLAND-CAYCE
The opening for Brookland-Cayce‘s new football stadium is Sunday, and the public is invited. Tours of the new facility will be held from 3-5 p.m., and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4 p.m.
4. RIVER BLUFF WILL COMPETE IN 4A
The Gators established themselves as a solid athletics program in the school’s inaugural year, reaching the playoffs in several sports at the Class 3A level. In its second season, River Bluff and coach David Bennett could make a splash among the larger programs in the state. River Bluff will compete against Irmo, Lexington, North Augusta, South Aiken and White Knoll.
5. NEW COACH AT BEN LIPPEN
The new football coach at Ben Lippen knows what it’s like to be on the winning team. Derek White was a part of the coaching staff at Christ Church in Greenville for seven years when the Cavaliers won three straight Class A football championships with a record of 41-1.
6. RNE WILL COMPETE IN 3A
S.C. High School League realignment has put Richland Northeast, formerly the smallest of the 4A schools, in 3A for the next two seasons. In Region 4, the Cavaliers have a good chance at leading the region in several sports. RNE joins A.C. Flora, Camden, Chapin, Dreher and Lower Richland in Region 4-3A.
7. C.A. JOHNSON IS A DEFENDING CHAMPION
For the first time in a long time, the Green Hornets finished in the winners’ circle last season, winning the Class A boys basketball championship. This school year, the Green Hornets should have a well-earned air of confidence and renewed motivation.
8. HEATHWOOD HALL GIRLS WILL FIND A NEW STAR
The Highlanders captured the SCISA Class 3A championship with national phenom A’ja Wilson leading a crew of seven seniors. Wilson now is playing for USC. The campaign for the next title begins with Casey Glick as the team’s only returning senior.
9. WOOLBRIGHT GUIDES BATESBURG-LEESVILLE FOOTBALL
The Panthers completed a two-season turnaround with a Class 4A Division II state title in 2013. Instead of picking up where they left off, the Panthers will start over under new coach Perry Woolbright, formerly of North Myrtle Beach.
10. BROWN BRINGS A NEW AGE TO SPRING VALLEY
Legendary coach Jerry Brown led Batesburg-Leesville to a state title this past season and moved over to Spring Valley in the spring. He intends to finish his career with the Vikings, the team he started with 44 years ago. Rather than reprising his role as a rebuilder, Brown will be leading a team that finished 12-1 this past season.
11. DUNLAP IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT AT DREHER
Beginning her career with the Blue Devils as an eighth grader, Jhileiya Dunlap has been a crucial part of two girls basketball state championships at Dreher. But with the graduation of four seniors – including center Makayla Johnson and 3A all-state player of the year Kaydra Duckett – the junior will be expected to take the reins.
12. KEMPER AMICK WILL NOT BE ON THE SIDELINES FOR COLUMBIA
The coach who led the Capitals for more than 20 years retired this spring, and Columbia has hired former Gamecocks football player Willie Offord. Amick’s expertise, positivity and his caring guidance of young men has left a lasting legacy at Columbia.
13. SEVENTH WOODS HAS REACHED PRIME RECRUITING SEASON
College coaches have been watching the Hammond School basketball phenom for years, but things could get more hectic this year. Now that Woods is a junior, the official recruiting process should include a lot of highlights on and off the court.
14. DUTCH FORK IS THE FOOTBALL TEAM TO BEAT
On the way to the Class 4A Division I football championship, coach Tom Knotts’ Silver Foxes notched a big win against perennial power Byrnes and established themselves as a top tier program. Knotts has sought to build a competitive schedule for the Silver Foxes, but Dutch Fork will be the favorite this season and not the challenger.
15. FLORA GETS A NEW BOYS BASKETBALL COACH
The A.C. Flora boys basketball program aims to reach the Class 3A championship for the second year in a row, this time under new coach Joshua Staley. Staley, who led the Orangeburg-Wilkinson girls’ team to the state finals in each of the past three seasons, has been tabbed to replace Leon Brunson for the 2014-15 season.
16. RIVER BLUFF- LEXINGTON CHEER RIVALRY
With the Gators moving into Class 4A, the state cheer championships could become a battle between these two crosstown teams. Lexington took the 4A title in 2013, while River Bluff, in its first year, captured the 3A championship. In the same region in 2014, the Gators and Wildcats could dominate the competitive cheer season.
17. GILBERT SOFTBALL STARTS A NEW ERA
The Gilbert Indians softball squad has been at the top of its game the past few years, and veteran coach Reuben Eargle guided the squad to a 26-6 record. As they prepare for the 2015 campaign, the Indians have a lot of experience to replace – Eargle has retired, and seniors shortstop Jenna Williams and pitchers Lyndie Dorgan and Gabby Keisler have left big shoes to fill.
18. LOWER RICHLAND GETS NEW BOYS BASKETBALL COACH
Mark Burnitz took the reins of the boys basketball program at Lower Richland this spring, with the expectation of pushing the Diamond Hornets to the top of Class 3A basketball. Lower Richland has not reached the state finals since the 2003-04 season and last won the title in 1999, as a Class 4A team. Four coaches later, the Diamond Hornets hope Burnitz can help change that.
19. KEENAN LOOKS TO STEP UP ITS GAME ON THE TRACK
The Raiders did well this spring under the direction of Veronica Satchell, with their girls team earning fourth place in the state and the boys team earned points with athletes in only a few events. But Keenan is hiring a new track coach, and improving on Satchell’s leadership will be a tough task.
20. WHITE KNOLL GIRLS GOLF WILL RISE
Jensen Castle led the Timberwolves, placing sixth in state last season, and she returns to lead the team in 2014. With much of the young team spending the summer in competition, White Knoll is sure to improve upon last year’s 12th overall finish.