Sport specialization continues to grow increasingly popular in the ultra competitive landscape of high school athletics. Some, though, still find ways to successfully diversify across sports and seasons. The best to do this in the East Cooper area are the 2019 Best of Prep Sports Awards Athletes of the Year.

There was no two-sport senior in the state as successful as First Baptist’s Michel Dukes. The Clemson football signee cemented his legacy this fall as not only one of the area’s all-time best football players, but one of the best the state has ever seen.

Dukes ran for more than 2,200 yards and 35 touchdowns, also passing for two scores, while guiding First Baptist back to the state championship for the third straight year. He finishes his high school football career with more than 8,000 yards, more than 100 touchdowns and two state titles, resurrecting a program that didn’t win a game in the two years prior to his freshman season.

That was just in the fall. Dukes was also one of the state’s top basketball prospects, averaging 22 points, five assists and four steals to guide the Hurricanes to the state semifinals this season. He was named to numerous all-tournament teams and won the dunk contest at the Slam Fest all-star event. He finishes his basketball career with more than 1,500 points and 500 assists. He’s a three-time all-state selection in football and two-time all-state selection in basketball.

“He put the football program on the map,” First Baptist coach Johnny Waters said. “He was a pioneer for First Baptist. He drew people in. And he shined light on not only the football program but the school in general. People started to pay attention all of a sudden because of what he was doing.”

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Winning a state championship and earning state Player of the Year honors in basketball wasn’t enough for Katie Brooks this year. She averaged a team-high 11 points, six rebounds and three steals per game for the Bishops, who went 28-1 on way to the a state championship this winter.

Then she came out for the track team for the first time ever in the spring. She caught on quickly, winning the region in the high jump and placing fourth in the long jump and triple jump. She continued to improve even late in the season, leaping to second in both the high and triple jumps at the Lower State championship meet. Brooks then placed third in the high jump and eighth in the triple jump at the Class 3A state championship meet, delivering seven crucial points to help the Bishop England girls track team win the team title. Brooks now finishes her career as a state champion in track to go with her two state titles in basketball.

“Physically, the stuff she can do is as good as anyone in the Charleston area,” Bishop England basketball coach Paul Runey said. “She can create opportunities athletically that a lot of people can’t get.”

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Best of Prep Sports Awards winners were selected based on a range of qualities valued by coaches who offered nominations and the selection committee. Athletes from Academic Magnet, Ashley Hall, Bishop England, First Baptist, Oceanside, Palmetto Christian, Philip Simmons, Porter-Gaud and Wando were all considered. 

Team of the Year: Bishop England girls lacrosse

Bishop England’s girls lacrosse team hasn’t lost since 2017, a run of 41 straight wins which includes four consecutive state championships.

The Bishops capped their second straight undefeated season this spring by playing in their sixth state championship of the past seven years. They outscored their competition this season by a combined score of 351-54, including 57-7 in the playoffs.

The Bishops have pulled off their dominant run despite the strongest strength of schedule in the state with wins over North Carolina state semifinalist Ashley High School and Georgia Class 5A state champion Starrs Mill, among others. The Bishops are far and away the most dominant lacrosse team in the short history of the game in this state.

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Coach of the Year: Paul Runey, Bishop England

Paul Runey led the Bishop England girls basketball team to the Class AAA state championship without a college commit on roster this season.

Bishop England went 28-1 this season, outscoring its competition by an average of 31 points per game. No player on the team averaged more than 11 points.The Bishops overcame Clemson signee Danea McNeal — one of South Carolina’s top scorers— in the state quarterfinals. They blew out undefeated Dillon by 24 points in the Lower State championship game, limiting an all-state player to less than half of her season scoring average for the second straight game. The Bishops then knocked off defending state champion Dillon in the state title game, once again limiting one of the top-ranked players in the state well below her scoring average.

The state title was the Bishops’ sixth in the past eight years, a run unmatched in Class AAA since the 1930s. The Bishops had never won a state title in the previous 89 years. Runey also earned his 700th career win this season, a feat just five other coaches in state history have ever accomplished.

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Scholar Athlete of the Year: Grace Ann Carlson, Bishop England

Bishop England girls lacrosse senior Grace Ann Carlson could’ve very well been the right choice for Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year.

The MIT signee is a four-time state champion, three-time all-state selection, two-time state Attack of the Year, and two-time U.S. Lacrosse National Tournament all-star. Carlson was second in the state in both assists and total points this season. She closed her high school career with a team-best six goals in the state championship game.

But what she does off the field is just as impressive. Carlson is Salutatorian of Bishop England’s 2019 class with a 4.96 out of 5.0 GPA. She’s a two-time Academic All-American, West Point Award winner, AP English Language and Composition Award winner, two-time honors Spanish award winner, AP Scholar Award winner, a member of Youth in Government and the math club, a three-year member of the National Honor Society, and the 2019 recipient of the Top Producers Scholarship.

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Courage Award: Colin Baker, Academic Magnet

The Courage Award is designed to recognize a top-tier athlete who has conquered extraordinary situations or circumstances during their season or career.

Academic Magnet senior Colin Baker is one of the nation’s top runners. He was challenged midway through the spring with a devastating hurdle. Five days after Baker broke a 31-year-old state record in the 3,200-meter race, his mother, Blythe, passed away from a complication with bone cancer.

Baker dedicated the rest of his season to his late mother. He set lofty goals, a couple things he’d never done before as a way to honor Blythe. Baker accomplished everything he set out to do, winning his third straight state title in the 3,200 this time by nearly 29 seconds with the fastest time run in any meet in South Carolina this season. He returned the following day to win the 1,600 state championship for the first time in his career, breezing across the finish line more than eight seconds before anyone else. 

“I felt like I owed it to my mother, for all the support she gave me,” Baker said. “I do believe she was there supporting me and I think she always will be. I hope she can continue to guide me in the right direction as she always has, just from a more intangible way now.”

Both of Baker’s championships came on Mother’s Day weekend.

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Players of the Year Boys cross country: Colin Baker, Academic Magnet

Academic Magnet senior Colin Baker finished his high school career as one of the more accomplished runners in state history. The 2018 Gatorade state runner of the year and Harvard signee is a six-time state champion. He won his second straight cross country state title last fall by more than a minute. He’s won three straight state titles in the 3,200-meter event, winning this year’s race by nearly 29 seconds. He won the state title in the 1,600 this year too, by more than eight seconds. Baker further cemented his legacy by setting a new state record in the 3,200, finishing in 8:54.68 to overthrow a previous best that had stood for 31 years. No other runner in the state in at least the past 20 years has run the 3,200 in less than nine minutes.

Girls cross country: Bryce Marion, Porter-Gaud

Porter-Gaud eighth-grader Bryce Marion finished as cross country state runner-up for the second straight year this fall to lead the Cyclones to their second straight team state championship. Marion — the 2018 Best of Prep Sports Cross Country Runner of the Year — shaved nearly seven seconds off her time from last year’s championship run, turning in a new personal best of 19:07.23, less than two seconds behind the fastest time any girl recorded in the Lowcountry this season. Marion is ranked as the top eighth-grader in all of SCISA and the second-fastest eighth-grader in the entire state. She also placed fourth in the 1,600 and seventh in the both the 800 and 3,200 to help the Porter-Gaud girls place third in the track and field state championships this spring.

Football: Justin Pelic, Wando

Wando senior linebacker Justin Pelic has been one of the most productive football players in the state over the past three years. Pelic set the school’s career tackle and solo tackle records this season, and finished just one sack short of the sack record. The Florida bound linebacker led the area with 123.5 tackles this season, 101 of them coming on solo efforts, and he played half the season with casts on both of his arms. It was Pelic’s second straight season leading the Warriors with more than 100 tackles, while competing in the state’s highest classification. He also set new school weightlifting records for linebackers in bench press, squat and power clean. Pelic is graduating in the top 1 percent of his class with better than a 5.0 GPA.

Boys golf: Austin Scott, Bishop England

Bishop England sophomore Austin Scott led the Bishops golf team to its second straight state title this spring, carding the team’s lowest score in both championships. The two-time all-state selection finished fourth on the individual leaderboard at this year’s championship match, shooting a 71 in the second round — the state’s second-lowest score of the day. Scott placed fifth or better in five different tournaments this spring, winning two dual matches and leading the Bishops to the Blythewood Bengal Invitational title. He’s was ranked as the second-best sophomore in the state much of the season and is now listed as second-best sophomore in Class AAA, although he finished a stroke ahead of the top-ranked sophomore at the AAA championship.

Girls golf: Rachel Rich, Oceanside

Oceanside junior Rachel Rich helped the Landsharks girls golf team to its second straight state championship this fall, finishing a team-low sixth on the individual leaderboard. The high school state title came four months after Rich won the Women’s S.C. Golf Association’s junior championship. She’s placed sixth or better in 10 different tournaments since then, including a second-place finish at the S.C. Junior Golf Association Fall Challenge and, most recently, a fourth-place finish at the Rocket Tour Players Championship at the University of Georgia. Rich is ranked as the second-best high school golfer in the state and the state’s No. 1 junior overall.

Boys swimming: Addie Laurencelle, Bishop England

Bishop England senior Addie Laurencelle began swimming fulltime just three years ago and has since blossomed into the state’s best.

Laurencelle finished his high school career as a six-time state champion, winning both the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events for the second straight year this fall, while also swimming anchor on the Bishops’ 200-yard freestyle relay team that repeated as state champions. The Cal Berkeley signee is ranked first in the state in the 50 and 100 freestyle. He’s positioned inside the nation’s top-80 in the 50-meter freestyle. He won the 50 and 100-yard freestyle titles at the S.C. Swimming Short Course State Championships in February, and placed third in the 100 and fourth in the 50 against some of the nation’s top talent at the Speedo Champions Series in March.

Girls swimming: Elysse Pardus, Porter-Gaud

Porter-Gaud junior Elysse Pardus is in the latter stages of one of the most dominant high school swimming careers in state history. Pardus is a 10-time state champion and holds seven state records. She’s never lost a SCISA event.

The Auburn signee began collecting state titles at just 13 years old, winning the 50 and 100-yard butterfly in seventh grade. Porter-Gaud’s girls swimming team had never won a team championship before she arrived.

The Cyclones won their fourth straight state title this fall as Pardus won the 100-yard butterfly by nearly five seconds, set a state record in the 200-yard freestyle and helped set a new 200-yard medley relay mark, a record that she and her teammates already held. Pardus ranks first in the state in the 100 butterfly and ranks top-five nationally in her age group.

Boys Tennis: Coy Simon, Philip Simmons

Philip Simmons junior Coy Simon has blossomed into the state’s best and is leading the Iron Horses first-year tennis program to similar levels.

Simon captured both the individual and team state championships this spring. Simon helped the Iron Horses to the AAA state title with a three-set win at No. 1 singles in the championship match. He followed four days later with an even more convincing two-set win in the finals of the individual state championships.

The 6-foot-2 ambidextrous Tennessee commit is ranked as the South’s No. 1 boys 18 player. He won the single and doubles championships at the USTA Southern Championships in April. Then he won the doubles title and finished as runner-up in singles at the National Level 2 Tournament a month later.

Girls tennis: Kat Lyman, Oceanside

Oceanside senior Kat Lyman didn’t play high school tennis as she trained for juniors competition the past two years but returned this fall and dominated. Lyman went undefeated this season while helping the Landsharks to the state championship match. The U.S. Naval Academy signee won the doubles title of the USTA Southern Level 2 Championships in October. She made it to the singles finals of the USTA Southern Level 1 Championship in February, the fifth time she’s advanced through to at least the quarterfinals round of a tournament in the past seven months.

Volleyball: Mattison Matthews, Ashley Hall

Ashley Hall senior Mattison Matthews has been one of the state’s most overwhelming volleyball players for years. She cemented her legacy this fall, though, by leading the Panthers to the SCISA state championship, ending rival Porter-Gaud’s eight-year title reign. The Virginia signee is a three-time statewide player of the year and five-time all-state selection. Matthews holds the school record with nearly 1,800 kills including 648 during an All-American season this fall, 30 more than anyone else in the state and top-40 nationally. She led the state in kill percentage among players with more than 500 attempts and placed third overall, first in SCISA, with 145 blocks. Matthews saved one of her best games for last, posting 23 kills, eight blocks and eight digs in the state championship match. Mattison also lettered in track and field.

Boys basketball: Josiah James, Porter-Gaud

Porter-Gaud senior Josiah James wasn’t just the area’s best this season. He’s likely one of the area’s best ever. The consensus five-star Tennessee signee is the highest-rated prospect the Lowcountry has ever had. He’s the second-highest rated prospect from South Carolina over the past quarter century in which scouts have been rating high schoolers. James is the second player from the Lowcountry to ever be selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game and one of just 13 ever from South Carolina. James is a three-time state champion, three-time all-state selection, 1,500-point scorer, and, last summer, won a gold medal with the USA U18 National Team. The state’s Mr. Basketball averaged 29 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and five assists, often sitting out the fourth quarter of games this season, to earn Gatorade state Player of the Year honors.

Girls basketball: Katie Brooks, Bishop England

Bishop England senior Katie Brooks began her varsity basketball career with a state title her sophomore season and finished it with another championship as a senior this fall. The Class AAA state Player of the Year averaged a team-high 11 points, six rebounds and three steals per game for the Bishops, who went 28-1 on way to the a state championship this season. Brooks was at her best late in the year. She scored 17 points on 86 percent shooting with seven rebounds in the Lower State championship game. Brooks then poured in 20 points with six rebounds and four steals despite battling a back injury in the state championship. She is a two-time all-state selection in basketball and also lettered in track and field.

Wrestling: Nathan Newman, Philip Simmons

Philip Simmons sophomore Nathan Newman might’ve been the best 160-pound wrestler in the Lowcountry this season. He nearly was the best in the entire Lower State as he finished second at the Class AA Lower State championship tournament. Newman advanced to the state championship tournament where he won his opening match to earn a bid into the state quarterfinals. Newman might’ve been even better had he been competing in the correct weight class. He wrestled up a class, sometimes two classes, all season to help balance the Iron Horses wrestling team. He still finished 8-2 during the regular season with four pins to earn Philip Simmons’ most valuable player honors. Newman also lettered in football in the fall.

Baseball: Geoffrey Gilbert, Bishop England

There have been few baseball players in Lowcountry history with a career to match Bishop England senior Geoffrey Gilbert. The Clemson signee and 2018 Gatorade state Player of the Year posted a 0.55 ERA this season, while leading Bishop England to its third straight state championship to earn North-South All-Star honors.

He’s accumulated a 0.81 ERA through the past three years, allowing just 16 earned runs over 177 ⅔ innings pitched.

Gilbert — the 2018 Best of Prep Sports Baseball Player of the Year — went 45 straight appearances without suffering a loss from the middle of his freshman season to the second game of the state championship series last week. He recovered from that rare blemish by earning the win on the mound in the decisive third game of the championship series four days later. Gilbert drove in the game-tying run, then took a walk in the bottom of the seventh inning to push in the game-winning run.

Accepting the baseball award along with Gilbert was his close friend and Summerville catcher Cole Messina. Cole is the top-ranked sophomore in the state.

The South Carolina Gamecocks commit led the entire state with 12 home runs this season while hitting .434 in the leadoff spot with 26 RBIs and 43 runs scored.

He averaged a .549 on-base percentage with five doubles and also stole 12 bases to help Summerville advance to the Class 5A Lower State semifinals.

Softball: Kennedy Rhue, Oceanside

Oceanside sophomore Kennedy Rhue was one of the area’s top hitters this season.

Rhue posted a .482 batting average with 27 hits and 22 RBIs.

She belted five doubles, seven triples and four home runs with a 1.035 slugging average. Rhue averaged a .524 on-base percentage, striking out just three times in 63 plate appearances and stole 12 bases.

Rhue was excellent in the defensively as well, with a .891 fielding percentage with 34 putouts and 23 assists.

And Rhue still has two years left to play of high school softball.

Boys lacrosse: Nathan Fasanaro, Wando

Some players score, others set up their teammates. Wando junior Nathan Fasanaro is among the state’s best in both. The Colgate commit led the Warriors lacrosse team to the Class 5A state championship game with a team-best 45 assists to go with 45 goals this season. Fasanaro ranked third in the entire state in assists and fourth in total points. He scored in all but two games this season and logged multiple assists in every postseason match, including three in the state championship. Wando lost just one game all season against in-state competition. Fasanaro was named all-state as well as the Lower State Attack of the Year.

Girls lacrosse: Ava Ward, Bishop England

Bishop England senior Ava Ward captained the Bishops girls lacrosse team through a perfect 19-0 run to their fourth straight state championship this season.

The Presbyterian signee ranked fifth in the state in goals and fifth in assists, positioning her fourth in overall in total points.

She scored twice and added an assist in the state championship game. She scored multiple goals in every game this season, averaging five per game during the playoffs.

Ward is the 2019 state Player of the Year, a two-time U.S. Lacrosse All-American, a three-time all-state selection and a three-time U.S. Lacrosse National Tournament all-star.

Boys soccer: James Cox, Bishop England

Bishop England senior James Cox spent the season a marked man as captain of the top-ranked team in the state. The College of Charleston soccer signee still managed a team-best 29 goals, fifth most in South Carolina. Cox has tallied 57 goals over the past two years, scoring on 40 percent of his shot attempts. He scored multiple goals in eight different games this season, including three hat tricks and two games with four goals to help the Bishops reach the state semifinals. Cox is a three-time all-region pick and two-time all-state selection.

Girls soccer: Maggie Van Thullenar, Wando

Deciding between Wando seniors Maggie Van Thullenar and Sami Meredith was so difficult, we split the girls soccer award. The Warriors team captains are together the 2019 Best of Prep Sports girls soccer co-players of the year.

Van Thullenar posted 21 shutouts in goal for the Warriors who spent much of the season ranked top 10 in the nation. She allowed just eight goals through 26 games and just one all postseason.

The Auburn signee set a new state record with 64 shutouts in a career that’s included a state championship at Academic Magnet as a sophomore, three all-state nods and an appearance on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Week.

Girls soccer: Sami Meredith, Wando

Meredith has long been one of the state’s most dangerous scorers, having put away more than 100 goals in her four-year career.

The South Carolina signee scored a team-best 40 goals, averaging nearly two per game, with 17 assists for the Warriors this season.

She accounted for about 32 percent of the scoring for a team that ranked second in the state in total goals this year.

Meredith scored five goals in the postseason to help the Warriors to the Class AAAAA state championship game.

The three-time all-state selection also led her club team in scoring this season, tallying 20 goals for the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy in Greenville.

Cheer: Emma Stevenson, Wando

Wando senior Emma Stevenson is a six-year letterman for the Warriors’ cheerleading and competition team.

Stevenson was the high-point flyer and team captain for the Warriors this year.

Her coaches cite her experience and dedication as invaluable to the success of this year’s team as well as those to come with the way she was able to guide and positively influence the underclassmen.

Stevenson is also a member of the Beta Club, AP Academy, Spanish Club, National Honor Society and treasurer of the Baking Club.

Boys track and field: David Kowalchick, Wando

Wando senior David Kowalchick was probably expected to win one state title this spring but he instead finished with two after a dominant showing at the Class 5A championships. The Navy-bound hurler entered the championship meet as the favorite in the discus. He won that event by more than four feet. Kowalchick wasn’t done, though. He went on to also win the shot put by more than a foot to help Wando finish as state runner-up. Kowalchick’s throws were both school records, both the longest in the state this season and both among the five furthest throws of anyone in the state over at least the past 20 years.

Girls track and field: Lauren Pernell, Palmetto Christian

No one has scored more points in the SCISA state championship track meets the past four years than Palmetto Christian senior Lauren Pernell. She won the 100 and 400 hurdles as well long jump and triple jump — all by significant margins — to outscore 11 teams by herself this season. She proved herself against some of the Southeast’s top public school competition, finishing fifth in the 400 hurdles at the Bojangles Classic this spring. No one in the Lowcountry ran a faster 400 hurdles time than Pernell this season. She holds school records in the 100 and 400 hurdles and 100 relay team. The Best of Prep Sports Girls Athlete of the Year in 2018 received all-state nods in track, volleyball and basketball.