The season had not even yet begun and already the Dataw Islanders tennis team was starting to face its share of adversity.
One of the group's newest members, Peggy Dale, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in January. And while team members knew they would be taking the court this year without her, they still wanted to show support for their friend during matches.
So they decided to replace all of the laces in their tennis shoes with new ones.
Pink ones, to be exact.
"I went home and told my husband, 'You'll never believe this,' " Dale recalled. "It was marvelous. You can't ask for a better team."
It was one of several struggles the Dataw Islanders were forced to fight through this season. But all that adversity paid off Monday, when the group took home the championship at the 3.5 level of the USTA Senior League State Championships at the Sea Pines Racquet Club.
The group now advances to the USTA Southern Section League Championships, which will be held July 28 through Aug. 5 in Mobile, Ala.
"Peggy came to every practice and we were so amazed," team captain Barbara Krakehl said. " ... She really showed spirit, determination and drive. That really helped us."
Dale underwent treatment for her cancer and is now healthy. Well, everywhere but in her leg. When she finally made her return to the court in late March, she tore the ACL in one of her knees.
But that didn't stop her from coming to Hilton Head Island this weekend -- with the help of crutches, of course -- to give back some of the support her teammates had already extended to her for so long.
"It's such a good team, honest to God," Dale said.
The team swept Grand Strand Tennis League, 3-0, to advance to Alabama. The Islanders -- who were runners-up this year in the Coastal Carolina Tennis League -- took tiebreakers on court Nos. 1 and 2 while Cathy McGill and Chris Dedel won on court No. 3 with scores of 6-4, 6-0.
Dedel returned to the court just three weeks ago following more than a month away after she underwent surgery on her left knee.
"Our determination, I think, really kicked in for state," Krakehl said. "Especially since we had injuries and people away."
The group joined the Hilton Head Island women's team at the 4.5 level as the only area winners. Hilton Head's Spring Lake Remnants -- led by captain Tom Larkin -- were runners-up at the men's 3.5 level.
Meanwhile, the 4.5 women, led by captain Jan O'Neill, won a state title for a second straight year. The group -- which knocked off Lexington Area Tennis League, 2-1, in the finals -- advanced all the way to nationals a year ago in Palm Springs, Fla.
The group came out on top in a pair of tiebreakers on both Sunday and Monday morning to advance to the championship.
"We've only just begun," O'Neill said.
O'Neill and teammates Lori Bergmann and Rachel Sigmon have been playing together as friends for about a decade but advanced to sectionals with a new group this time around. USTA forces teams to split up each year following a run to nationals.
"Our goal when we were practicing was to win state," O'Neill said. "It's an accomplishment because it's a crapshoot. You can get lucky and win and sometimes you don't."
The group's victory was certainly familiar territory, but the same couldn't be said for the Dataw Islanders, who were just happy to simply collect their state champions T-shirts following the win.
Until they discovered there wouldn't be enough for Dale to claim a shirt of her own. No matter, though. They made sure to find her one anyway, which triggered a few tears and hugs between she and a few teammates.
"It's amazing, because really, what's important is our life and friendship," she said. "This is a conduit for getting us all together."