April 2020

The Next Level

Author: Special to CH2 | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

It seems like the year of the athlete here, with dozens of Lowcountry seniors headed off to play at the college level.

America loves sports. Cheering from the sidelines and stands, and all that comes along with that, is a large part of our culture—from college football tailgate parties to singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and doing the wave around a giant stadium with perfect precision. No wonder so many young boys and girls dream of playing a sport at the professional level. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to play in the World Series, dance in a Broadway play or volley a ball across the net at the US Open?

Fewer than seven percent of high school athletes actually make that penultimate step to play varsity level collegiate sports and only two percent go on to play at the professional level. Nevertheless, it seems like the year of the athlete here, with dozens of Lowcountry seniors headed off to play at the college level. For our first ever SPORTS issue, we caught up with a few of them to find out what they love about their game and what they’ll miss most about our area.

Whit Molloy
College: Jacksonville University
Sport: Men’s Lacrosse
High School: Hilton head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
Six

What do you love about it?
I love playing and competing. It’s fast-paced, physical and strategic.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
Thomas Farrell. He is about six years older than me, and when he was in high school and playing in college, he would work with me in his spare time to help me learn the game and get better.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
Keep working hard because success doesn’t come easy. The work you do outside of practice is what really sets you apart and gets you ahead.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I like to work with some of the younger kids to help them get better at shooting and dodging.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
I will miss my family.

Chloe Wells
College: Marymount Manhattan College
Sport: Dance
High School: Hilton Head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
15 years. I started classes when I was two and haven’t stopped!

What do you love about it?
I love how dance has fewer boundaries and rules than other sports. Dance is constantly evolving and changing and creating more, and I love being a part of that process. I can be as artistic and emotionally vulnerable as possible. My senior year has been the toughest time of my personal life so far, but I figured out through all of it that I need dance because it makes sense when nothing else does. It’s incredibly disciplinary, especially ballet, doing the same things every class but still pushing yourself. But I enjoy being hard on myself, making my body use its full range of motion and strength. The biggest reason I love dance though, is how I feel when I’m moving. I would describe if I could, but it’s a once in a lifetime type of magic, that I’m lucky enough to experience every day. I couldn’t live without that feeling.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
Marymount Manhattan College is my perfect fit. The faculty members are all amazing and are people I trust to help prepare me for a successful career. It is also a school that supports dancers double majoring, which a lot of college dance programs don’t like, so the staff will work with me to help me get my BFA in dance and also a BS in business. A big bonus of the school is being right in New York City! It’s my favorite place in the world and easily the best place to start a dance career, so opportunities are endless.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My studio, Bluffton School of Dance, has an amazing set of teachers, especially Dawn Rosa Miller and Meg Eberly, who have been with me since the beginning and have become my second family. They brought in Holly Ryder Robinson, who has helped me realize my full potential and growth. She is a master teacher we have in the studio once a month, and since my freshman year she’s taken me under her wing and helped me. She’s tough on me, but I’ve always loved that because it meant she was always giving me advice on how to be better. I owe a lot of my growth as an artist and a technician to her.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to dance at the college level someday?
There’s a great Stevie Nicks quote where she says, “I am pretty fearless. You know why? Because I don’t handle fear very well; I’m not a good terrified person.” That resonates with me. If you are pursuing dance, you have to dive head-first into everything—look stupid, fall on your face, and make mistakes. If those things scare you, remind yourself why you love dance and work through that fear.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I love music, especially rock, and I’m always looking for new stuff to listen to. I always end up dancing to it though, so I’m not sure if that counts. Other than that, I like hanging out with my friends and my family.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
My family and my dance studio. I talk to my mom and twin sister every day; I’m very close with my family. And my team at dance is so special to me. They’re such a unique set of people, and we’ve been through a lot together. I consider everyone at my studio a part of my family as well.

Colin Gross
College: Charleston Southern University
Sport: Baseball
High School: Hilton Head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
I have been playing baseball for 14 years. I first played tee ball when I was four.

What do you love about it?
I love the competitive aspect of the sport. When I’m in the field catching, I enjoy being the field general and having some part in controlling every play. When I’m hitting, I love the fact that it’s you against one other guy, and it’s the person that is both mentally and physically tougher that is going to prevail.
I also enjoy the lifelong friendships and connections that I’ve made through the sport.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
I like the entire atmosphere of the school as well as the baseball program. The school offers electrical engineering, which is my choice of major, and the coaching staff has done a great job of promoting the mentality of the team to me. In addition to this, Charleston is an amazing city to live in, and I cannot wait to get up there.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
I don’t know if I have had a coach that has necessarily gotten me into the game, because my passion for the sport came on its own for the most part. But I have to say that the one person who has always been there for me has been my dad. He’s a dentist, so he works long hours, but despite this, he has always been there to throw me batting practice, drive me to tournaments, or talk to me after my games. There are some nights during the year when he gets so busy at his office that he doesn’t get home until around 9:30, but he still manages to take me to the field as late as 10 or 11 p.m. to throw me batting practice when I ask. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and love him for that.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
When it comes to playing baseball, there are more aspects to the game than just performance on the field. If you truly want to play at the next level, you need to focus on schoolwork, weightlifting, nutrition, the mental aspect of the game, and making the right choices off the field. If you enjoy playing the game, and give it 110 percent, great things are sure to happen.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
In my free time, I love to play guitar, listen to rock music, fish, and go to the beach with my friends.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
Even though I won’t be too far from home, the people I am going to miss most are my family, my friends, and my high school baseball team. I have lived on Hilton Head Island for the past 10 years, so it’s going to be hard to see all of my friends and teammates go separate ways. However, I’m looking forward to my time at Charleston Southern and can’t wait for this next chapter in my life.

JJ Richardson
College: Erskine College
Sport: Baseball
High School: Hilton Head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
I have been playing baseball since I was able to hold a bat and throw a ball.

What do you love about it?
I love pitching; the feeling of striking someone out gives me a drive to be the best.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
The coaches. When I got to Erskine, the connections I made with Coach Crocco and Coach Cragle made me feel at home there.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My cousin Bobby Richardson. Growing up, I knew that my cousin was a pro baseball player, and seeing that happened in my family pushes me to hopefully be in the MLB just as he was years ago.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
Practice! There’s always someone out there working out trying to be better than you.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I like to hang out with my friends and play any sport; typically, I like to golf or play basketball.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
Definitely my mother, father and brother, I have family that lives close by, so hopefully they will come up and watch a couple of games next year.

Sayda Hernandez
College: Indiana University
Sport: Tennis
High School: Hilton Head Prep

How many years have you been playing your sport?
10 years

What do you love about it?
Tennis has helped me become a better person on and off the court.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
I like what they are able to provide for the student athletes in terms of great facilities and coaching staff.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My dad helped me start tennis at a young age and helped me develop my love for the sport.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
Keep working hard every day. Tennis is a long process, and nothing is done in one day.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
Hang out with friends and family.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
My family—especially my younger brother Gabriel.

Tori Herman
College: University of Kentucky
Sport: Track
High School: Hilton Head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
I have been playing my sport since about sixth grade but did not get serious about the sport until my freshman year.

What do you love about it?
It helps relieve my stress and allows me to think and challenge myself in a very free way. I am constantly pushing myself to be better, and it is always fun to have competition to race against.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
I am very excited to be surrounded by such a positive environment of both teammates and coaches. I am really excited to continue my major as well.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My mom really helped me find the sport and learn to love it!

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
Keep working hard and everything will work out in the end. Just stay positive.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I like to hang out with friends, watch movies, go to the beach, and cook.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
My family and the beach!

JT Herman
College: University of Georgia
Sport: Golf
High School: Hilton Head Preparatory School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
I have been playing golf for about 12 years (since I was six years old).

What do you love about it?
I love that you never really know how you’re going to do every time you play; no one round or shot is the same.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
I love the coaches, campus, and all of my future teammates.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My dad and my grandpa were the ones who got me into the game when I was six, and my coach now is Tim Cooke. He is the one who really elevated my game since I started going to him in September of 2018.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
If this is really something you would like to do, you have to work really hard and remember that not every day will be a good day on the golf course. Also, remember that there is always time. I was considered a late bloomer.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I am hanging out with my friends, going to the beach, or doing “touristy” things like going to Hilton Head Diner or playing mini golf.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
I am going to miss my friends and family the most for sure, and I am going to miss the location where we are and the beach.

Gaston Moore
College: University of Central Florida
Sport: Football
High School: Hilton Head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
I have been playing football for 10 years. I started playing gator football in third grade.

What do you love about it?
I love working as a team and working together to reach goals. I love overcoming adversity as a team and the brotherhood that football brings.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
I like the way the program is run at UCF. I believe all the coaches do their best for the players. I think I fit their offense, and I love the location.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
All of my high school coaches really pushed me to be the best I can be, and I thank them for that. Coach Whitlow, who was my QB coach, took a lot of time to help me get better at my craft. Coach Payne, who was my head coach, did so much to get his kids on the radar.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level?
I believe that it’s a great opportunity, and you can do anything you put your mind to.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I love to hunt, fish and be outdoors.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
Everyone who was with me throughout this whole journey. I’m probably going to miss all of my coaches and teammates the most.

Cole DeMarzo
College: Michigan State
Sport: Football
High School: Hilton Head Island High School

How many years have you been playing your sport?
I have been playing football since I was eight years old. I first started playing for the Gator Football program through the Island Rec Center, and that is where I found my love for football.

What do you love about it?
I love football for the excitement and adrenaline rush you get on the field. I love big hits and scoring touchdowns.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
I most like the championship level football program and how the students and alumni are a big family. I am excited to play on TV every Saturday.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My dad got me into the game when I was younger and has pushed me ever since. Coach LJ Bush has also been a great mentor for me throughout middle and high school. Above all, I want to thank Coach Payne for mentoring me through my recruiting process and helping me get exposure to colleges.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
I would tell them to set goals, work hard, push yourself, listen to your coaches, and have fun because you are playing the sport you love.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
I enjoy hanging out with friends and going to the beach when I’m not training or studying. Hilton Head Island is a great place to grow up!

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
I’m going to miss my mom and dad the most when I leave for college. I’m going to miss being with my best friends every day, but I’m ready for the next chapter!

Abigail Brighton
College: Vanderbilt University
Sport: Soccer
High School: Heritage Academy

How many years have you been playing soccer?
13 years

What do you love about it?
I like the competitiveness that comes with the sport. Soccer, to me, has become an obsession over the years from the physical challenges, camaraderie with teammates, opportunities to travel, and many more opportunities that have influenced me as a person.

What do you like most about the college you are headed to?
Vanderbilt checked all boxes for me on my college search. It has a great soccer team as well as wonderful coaches and a program I am beyond excited to be a part of. The academic standards of Vanderbilt are extremely high, and I am looking forward to that challenge as well.

Did you have a special coach or mentor who really got you into the game?
My dad and brother both influenced me when I was younger regarding soccer. They both shared their love for the game, and I caught on and have loved it ever since.

What advice would you have for a younger person aspiring to play at the college level someday?
If you are looking to play at a collegiate level, it will take a lot of sacrifice and hard work to get where you want to be. At times, it can be challenging both mentally and physically; however, if it’s something you love, give it your all.

When you aren’t training or studying, what do you do for fun?
When I am not training or studying, I typically find myself at the beach. I love to surf (even though I’m not very good). I also love to travel to different places, and as a huge foodie, I am obsessed with trying new foods and experiencing different cultures.

What (or who) are you going to miss most when you leave the Lowcountry?
It’s a given that I am going to miss living on the coast. Growing up on Hilton Head, I have developed a love for this island from the gorgeous sunsets to the people surrounding me, especially my family. 

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