With spring sports officially beginning in full this week, here is a look at 10 story lines to watch for in the Midlands this year:
Region 5-5A baseball among state’s best
Judging by the SC Baseball Coaches’ Preseason polls, Region 5-5A should be among the state’s best, especially for baseball.
Lexington, River Bluff and Blythewood were ranked in the top 10. The Wildcats and Gators played for the Class 5A Lower State championship last season, with River Bluff advancing to its first state title series.
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Lexington returns several players and has a roster full of college signees. River Bluff lost a lot of leadership and talent from last year’s squad but will be in the mix for the region race.
Blythewood should be stronger in Banks Fulkner’s second year and has a good mix of young and veteran talent. Dutch Fork has holes to fill but looked good in its first two games in the NaturChem Invitational, and White Knoll started strong in the Red Bank Invitational.
Can AC Flora baseball go back-to-back?
Despite having a young roster last season, A.C. Flora won its sixth state title since 2001.
The Falcons return most of that team and are the favorites to repeat in Class 4A. A.C. Flora begins the season ranked No 1 in the Class 4A S.C. Baseball Coaches Poll, and they are ranked nationally by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
All eyes on Swansea’s Sightler
Swansea’s Josiah Sightler will look to build on a strong junior season, and Major League baseball scouts will be looking on as well.
The South Carolina signee, who is coming off torn labrum surgery in the offseason, hit .455 with five homers and 15 RBIs and was 4-4 on mound with 79 strikeouts. He tied a state record with 21 strikeouts in a 11-2 victory against Bluffton in an elimination game in the Class 3A playoffs.
Chapin boys’ soccer going for three in a row
The Chapin boys’ soccer team has its eyes set on a third state championship.
No boys’ soccer team has won three in a row since Bishop England won five in a row from 2005-09.
The Eagles have a new coach, as Denny Sago replaces Ben Bosco, who left to pursue a career in the insurance industry.
The Chapin girls are going for their third consecutive appearance in the title series. The Eagles lost to South Aiken in last year’s championship.
Heises at Grey Collegiate
After spending most of last season away from the sideline, Kevin Heise is back this year in a new place.
The longtime Brookland-Cayce coach landed at Gray Collegiate and hopes to build that program, which is in its second year competing in the South Carolina High School League. The War Eagles won the Silver Division at the Capital City Cup preseason tournament.
Heise’s wife, Emily, made the move with him and is coaching the War Eagles’ girls squad after leading B-C to the Class 3A championship game.
New faces, new places
The Heises aren’t the only new faces with new schools this year.
Charles Assey left White Knoll to take over the Cardinal Newman program. Former Timberwolves’ player Blake Roland replaces Assey.
Robby Setzler, who was interim boys’ soccer coach at B-C last year, is the new Gilbert coach. B-C has a pair of new soccer coaches in Matt Drapeau (boys) and George Knox (girls).
Some of the other coaching changes include Brian Larsen (Ben Lippen baseball) and Vince Connor (Westwood baseball).
Cardinal Newman soccer looks to continue title run
Both Cardinal Newman soccer teams won SCISA 3A titles last season and will try to do it again this year.
The Cardinal boys lost Gatorade National Player of Year Wyatt Millard but got a boost when Grayson Barber decided to finish his high school career back in Midlands.
Barber, a Clemson signee and four-star recruit who was with Sporting Kansas City Youth Academy last year, has eight goals in four games this season.
Will Flora golf dynasty continue?
A.C. Flora will try to continue one of the most impressive streaks in state history this year as it goes after its ninth consecutive golf championship.
The Falcons have holes to fill with Ryan Marter and Jack Parrott off to play college golf. A.C. Flora was ranked No. 2 in S.C. Golf Coaches Preseason poll, behind Myrtle Beach.
Lexington boys golf begins the year at No. 4 in Class 5A.
Midlands lacrosse teams look to build on momentum
The Chapin girls and A.C. Flora boys made trips to the state lacrosse finals last year and will try to do it again this season.
Chapin returns four of its five top scorers, including Midlands Player of Year Jordan Green.
In SCISA, the Hammond boys look to win their second consecutive state title.
A.C. Flora tennis eyes another state trip
A.C. Flora’s tennis program will look to continue its recent run as it goes for its fifth consecutive state title appearance.
The Falcons were in the Class 3A final from 2014-16 and last year in Class 4A. A.C. Flora’s championship in that span came in 2015.