Basketball is considered to be the historically significant sport in the Midlands, but tennis compares favorably to hoops’ championship legacy.
According to the High School League’s Palmetto’s Finest record book, Midlands schools have been part of 96 state championship games and 61 successful title bids since the sanctioned playoff system debuted in 1916.
The boys tennis yield of 25 state championships and 36 runner-up performances seems low, but tennis did not debut until 1960. The Midlands boys basketball bounty since 1960 is 40 titles and 27 second-place efforts, which proves Midlands tennis can be included in the debate about which sport is No. 1.
Moreover, since tennis adopted a dual-match playoff format in 1985, at least one Midlands team has made it to the final 28 times in 29 seasons. The area produced no basketball finalists four times — the most recent in 2007 — during the same span.
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Irmo was the dominant tennis program in the Midlands and the state for many years, winning 10 state titles with five runners-up finishes. Spring Valley, Lexington, A.C. Flora, Richland Northeast and Camden have had runs of excellence in the past 25 years, but the emergence of Chapin as an elite program has been the biggest story recently.
After years of being blocked by Christ Church in Class 2A and Myrtle Beach in 3A, the Eagles broke through with three straight 3A championships (2010-2012) and a runners-up effort in 2013, to earn the distinction as one of The State’s Dozen Dynasties.
John Rodgers has witnessed the progression since 1977.
“I just graduated from The Citadel and was hired as the basketball coach, and tennis came along with it,” Rodgers said. “What I remember most from those early days is that we had a lot of athletes who came out for the sport and a number of pretty good players, but we just didn’t have kids with the skills of players that Irmo had.
“We had good teams for a lot of years, but didn’t have the depth to compete for state championships. We didn’t have the advanced kids who played at country clubs and in tournaments in the summer. That always caught up to us in the playoffs.”
Chapin made it to the Upper State final 10 times during its 2A days in the 1980s and ’90s, only to be denied by Christ Church — the top program in any sport in South Carolina with 24 state championships.
After moving up to 3A in 2005, Chapin failed to make the playoffs and lost to title-bound Myrtle Beach in the Lower State championship in 2006 and 2007.
Things changed when the Koch family arrived.
It all started with Kyle Koch, now a rising junior at USC. He started at No. 2 singles as a seventh grader in 2006. His twin brothers, Sean and Jeffrey, joined him in the lineup in 2008.
But it took another two years for the Eagles to rise to the top.
“Having the Koch brothers was the foundation for what turned out to be a great time for Chapin tennis, but it was frustrating at times just getting to the finals for the first time,” Rodgers said. “I think Kyle maturing as a player and a team leader was the real difference.”
Kyle Koch finished his Chapin career with a 134-7 record, a 28-0 senior season and a streak of 75 wins in a row. He was the program’s first state singles champion with a run of three straight 4A-3A titles that coincided with the team’s championship reign.
He is one of four players in state history to secure individual singles honors at least three times. He is the second Midlands player to do so, matching Irmo’s Bret Garnett (1983-85). The only four-time singles champ is Sumter’s Chuck Hodgin (1974-77).
“Seeing a player of that caliber every day in practice inspired the other guys,” Rodgers said. “Guys started taking lessons and playing a lot more in the summer. It really took us to another level. We now had the quality players and the quality depth.”
The Eagles had a 21-0 run to the 2010 title and a 4-2 win against Midlands rival Camden. Chapin went 22-2 and defeated Travelers Rest 6-0 in the finale in 2011 and completed the three-peat with a 21-2 record and a 6-0 triumph against Nation Ford. The Eagles finished 2013 with an 18-4 record and a 4-3 loss to Socastee.
Chapin had a chance to become the first Midlands tennis program to win four straight state titles. Now the Eagles will have to share the glory with Irmo, which won three in a row two times under coach Bill Porter (1987-89, 1993-95), and Lexington (2004-06).
Chapin will lose five six-year seniors, including Sean and Jeffrey Koch, but perhaps the legacy of the past four seasons will inspire a new generation of Chapin tennis players.
“It will all come down to how committed our young guys are,” Rodgers said. “They all saw what it takes to become a champion. Time will tell.”
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State championships won by the Chapin boys tennis team:
Championship era leaders:
Kyle Koch — No. 1 singles (2010-11)
Sean Koch — No. 1 singles (2012-13), No. 3 singles (2010-11)
Jeffrey Koch — No. 2 singles (2012-13), No. 4 singles (2011), No. 5 singles (2010)
Augie Kibler — No. 3 singles (2013), No. 4 singles (2012)
Zac Murray — No. 4 singles (2013), doubles (2012)
Alex Arkin — No. 3 singles (2012), No. 5 singles (2011)
Alex Wallace — No. 2 singles (2010-11)