Mackenzie Cooler put a bag of ice on her shoulder and held it in place. She grabbed a backpack with her other arm and prepared to leave Hilton Head Island High School's gymnasium.
More than a year after undergoing surgery to repair the shoulder, the Bluffton High School junior still feels its effects. But that hasn't changed her mindset on the volleyball court.
She wants the ball. And when the Bobcats need her, the outside hitter delivers, as she did Wednesday when Bluffton defeated rival Hilton Head High 25-20, 26-24.
"I just want the ball every time and hit it as hard as I can to get a point," Cooler said. "They pretty much just come to me."
Cooler finished with 22 kills, 21 assists and four kill blocks on the night. The Bobcats fell to Savannah Country Day to open the tri-match.
Hilton Head High defeated Savannah Country Day 25-23, 25-12 before turning around to face Bluffton.
Trailing 24-23 in the second game and in danger of slipping to a third game, Bluffton called timeout. The Bobcats set to Cooler, who delivered the tying kill. Her next kill gave the Bobcats the lead and, when Hilton Head High called time, Bluffton coach Al Stern changed Cooler's blocking assignment to match the Seahawks hitter he expected to drive the play.
The ball never cleared the net.
Stern admits the Bobcats might go to Cooler too often, especially with her shoulder's history. But he shuffles her back to the middle against weaker opponents and saves her big swings.
"We set her a lot," Stern said. "But when it's 25-24, who do you want to give the ball to? It's like the Chicago Bulls. If you need a last-minute shot, you give it to Michael Jordan. There's no one else on the court."
The Bobcats were coming off a victory Tuesday at Wando, the No. 3 team in Class 4-A. Cooler said Bluffton released some frustration on the Warriors over not being ranked.
The team's first season in Class 4-A has started well. The Bobcats moved to 9-5 Wednesday.
Though no longer a region match, and Bluffton a classification larger than its rival, the match against the Seahawks still brought the intensity. Neither team enjoyed more than a two-point advantage and the final seven points were back and forth.
Hilton Head High coach Garret Talarczyk said the Seahawks played well in defeating Savannah Country Day and played a competitive match with Bluffton. Hilton Head High sophomore Sierra Davis led the Seahawks with seven kills against Bluffton.
The difference late was Cooler at the net.
Talarczyk said the Seahawks worked to take an angle away from the Bobcats' hitter and tried to get a blocker's hand on the ball. Hilton Head High gets another chance next week at Bluffton.
"I count on my girls just to get a piece of it," Talarczyk said. "She's a smart hitter."
Cooler had surgery after club season before her sophomore year. Stern said he has been fairly healthy this season but has played volleyball every day and that he's cautious.
Cooler appears ready to move forward. She said the Bobcats have adjusted well to their jump to 4-A.
"We thought we were going to be the underdogs," she said. "But we beat the No. 3 team in the state (Tuesday), so it's not that bad."