Players shouldn't have bothered passing the soccer ball to Emily Crick a few years ago. The Hilton Head Island High School standout didn't want it.
"If I got the ball the first thing I wanted to do was get it away," Crick recalled. "I didn't want anybody to see me with the ball. I would never shoot and I had the worst confidence."
Things have obviously changed. Crick took on the high-profile position of center midfielder in 2012 for Seahawks coach Ernie Suozzi, and responded by taking Hilton Head High to a 25-2 record and its second consecutive state championship. It also helped her win the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette's Girls Soccer Player of the Year honor.
"I used to hate playing center mid but now I love it," she said. "It's like everybody is always looking for me. Besides goalie, I'm supposed to have the best vision. I'm supposed to know where everybody is at all times."
Crick said her potential future in soccer helped push her to greater heights this season. The rising senior is committed to play for Winthrop University following graduation.
"This year was when I started to look around for colleges and see if I was really interested in playing at the next level," she said. "I really had to focus on everything. I think I really put all that I could and my heart and soul into it. I tried to do the best I could this season and I guess it paid off."
Suozzi certainly appreciated Crick's effort, as her play on the field proved virtually unstoppable for opposing teams.
"If you control the middle of the field, you control the game 99 percent of the time," he said. "That's what she did all year for us. She just ran that middle, directed traffic up there, got the ball to the forwards, laid it back when there was nothing to go forward with.
"She just played so poised this season."
Player of the Year: Emily Crick, Hilton Head High
Coach of the Year: Ernie Suozzi, Hilton Head High
All-Area: Faith Lifer, Hilton Head High; Jordan Haughton-James, Hilton Head High; Ashley Green, Hilton Head High; Kelsey Fitzhugh, Hilton Head High; Carson Moore, Beaufort High; Molly Murphy, Beaufort High; Naomi McCracken, Bluffton; Madison Putich, Bluffton; Miranda Weslake, Beaufort Academy; Halie Parker, Hilton Head Prep; Nicole Sicilia, Hilton Head Christian Academy.
Bob Layman always has been hesitant to heap praise on his daughter Ashlie.
The Thomas Heyward Academy softball coach generally leaves that opportunity to others. But it has proven difficult in recent years to bite his tongue, given what Ashlie has accomplished on the diamond.
"It's hard to do it, being I'm her father," he said.
That was never truer than in 2011, when Layman won the SCISAA softball player of the year award, yet couldn't bring home MVP honors on her own team.
"Sometimes I go a little too far in the other direction with her, I guess," the elder Layman said with a laugh.
He had no choice this time around, though. The future USC Beaufort Sand Shark led the Rebels to a berth in the state championship series thanks to her 24-3 record, 0.67 ERA and 181 strikeouts. She also hit third for the Rebels for the fifth straight year, registering a .435 batting average with seven homers and 49 RBIs. Layman is the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette's Softball Player of the Year for 2012.
"What other coaches have to say about her is way more important than what I have to say about her," Bob Layman said. "I'm not one to pound my chest. I'm just not going to do that.
"I think her numbers speak for what she's done."
Layman and the rest of the Rebels went through just three practices before taking the field for the season opener against Bluffton, thanks to the school's SCISAA state title run in basketball. But after a season-opening loss to the Bobcats, Thomas Heyward rattled off 26 straight victories, two of which came against Bluffton.
Layman's solo homer proved the difference in the Rebels' first win over the Bobcats -- a 1-0 duel in which she pitched a complete game -- before the senior walked Bluffton off in extras in her future home at USCB.
"I'm very excited," she said of becoming a Sand Shark. "It's a little bit of a change because I've always been under my father's wings. I'm looking forward to it."
Maybe playing for coach Ty Rietkovich will increase her odds of bringing home an MVP award, like the one her father finally caved in to give her this season.
But don't expect a new coach to change the pair's relationship by any means.
"We just have that special relationship to where he's hardest on me because he knows I can do better," she said. " ... But I'm daddy's little girl. Outside of sports we're really close."
Player of Year: Ashlie Layman, Thomas Heyward Academy
Coach of the Year: Bill Ball, Bluffton
All-Area: P Courtney Smith, Bluffton; C Whitney Morrell, Bluffton; INF Alexia Cortez, Bluffton; SS Michelle Brown, Beaufort High; UTIL Aileen Moore; Hilton Head High; IB Taylor Ernestine, Thomas Heyward; INF Caitlyn Cooler, Thomas Heyward; OF Bri Kelnhofer, Thomas Heyward.
Gretchen Brown looked as though she had done this a million times.
The Battery Creek track standout had just wrapped up a successful day at the state meet in Columbia, where she took home the gold in the 100-meter hurdles. It was then where Brown let slip that she had never actually competed in the event until this year.
"To win state at something I just started doing makes me happy," she said afterward. "... All I could do was smile."
It was a fitting conclusion to a fantastic season for Brown, who captured her first state title during her final season, as well as being selected as the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette's Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year for 2012.
Brown also finished second in the long jump at state, fourth in the triple jump and was part of the Dolphins' 4x100-meter relay team.
"We knew she had the speed, but we didn't know she would come around so fast, as far as picking up the technique," coach Tyrone Pierce said. "She surprised everybody. She blew me away."
The senior -- who was the Region 7-AAA champion in the 100, the long jump and triple jump -- helped Battery Creek's girls to a tie for 10th at the state meet.
"We've been training hard to do what we had to do to take state," Brown said. "(My expectation) was to win state all along."
Brown has also been named the Class 3-A Track and Field Athlete of the Year by the S.C. Coaches Association of Women's Sports.
Athlete of the Year: Gretchen Brown, Battery Creek
Coach of the Year: Herb Glaze, Beaufort High
All-Area: Madeline Aune, Beaufort High; Alexia Neal, Beaufort High; Veneshia Holmes, Beaufort High; Stephanie Taylor-Pollock, Beaufort High; Faith Lifer, Hilton Head High; Rachel Friend, Hilton Head High; Johnnie Gaston, Bluffton.
Elaine Natoli realized this year would be different from all the others.
As a senior for the Hilton Head Island High School girls lacrosse team, Natoli knew she would be counted on to help carry a youthful Seahawks team through the regular season and into the playoffs.
"I definitely felt like as a senior I had to step it up," she said. "I practiced a lot in the offseason. I always had out my stick and tried to get at it as much as I could."
She even picked up cross country during her downtime in order to "try to get more endurance going," she said. Her hard work paid off on the field, as she helped guide Hilton Head High to a 9-5 record and has been chosen as the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette's Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year for 2012.
"I think that quickness that I got through that helped me a lot during the games," she said. "I guess I out-ran people."
Natoli -- who will try to play club lacrosse at College of Charleston next season -- led the Seahawks this year with 40 goals, 13 more than the team's second-leading scorer, Jenna Sheeran. She also tied for the team lead with 24 assists and was second with 32 ground balls.
"It was a really great season," she said. "I really liked our team. It was a lot different, because they were younger, but I think we all bonded really well."
What she'll likely remember most about her senior year, though, is playing on the final team under Meg Hendy. Hendy, the only coach in the Seahawks' history, retired after the season following 14 years at Hilton Head High.
"I'm just honored that I got to play under her," Natoli said. "She was a great influence on me. She knew how to have fun and play the game. She taught me everything."
Player of the Year: Elaine Natoli, Hilton Head High
Coach of the Year: Meg Hendy, Hilton Head High
All-Area: Morgan Raffaele, Hilton Head High; Jenna Sheeran, Hilton Head High; Hailey Matousek, Hilton Head High; Taylor Cocuzza, Bluffton; Madison Aust, Bluffton; Thea Smith, Bluffton.