Mackenzie Cooler wasn't quite sure what to expect out of her Bluffton High School volleyball team this season.
The College of Charleston commitment paired with Jordan Franklin as the lone seniors on the Bobcats roster, which welcomed four freshmen to its starting rotation this year. Cooler was initially looked upon to guide the young squad as it transitioned into a new era, but the goals are beginning to shift as the season grows older.
"I didn't think coming in that we'd be as good as we are now," she said. "But I love where we are and I just hope we continue to get better."
Bluffton continued its midseason rise Wednesday with a tri-match sweep of St. Vincent's and rival Hilton Head Island High. The Bobcats improved to 14-7 after a handful of early-season losses in Georgia and will look to improve upon their 2-0 Region 8-AAAA record Thursday against Ashley Ridge.
"Compared to the 2007 team, when we won state, I would say the talent is probably equal," coach Al Stern said of his 10th Bobcats team. "But we're lacking compared to 2007's experience."
But those freshmen are beginning to play more like juniors, Stern said. That was apparent in the 25-15, 25-21 victory over Hilton Head High, as the Bobcats had a kill percentage of 45 percent.
"Our kill percentage was unbelievable tonight," Stern said. " ... We've had that percentage against lousy teams. But against a team of the quality of Hilton Head's, that's phenomenal."
Bluffton coupled its rivalry win with a 25-15, 25-20 victory over St. Vincent's to open up the evening. But the Saints quickly rallied in their second match, a thrilling 25-23, 24-26, 26-24 win over the Seahawks.
The pair of defeats were the first of the season for Hilton Head High, which had rattled off 12 consecutive wins en route to the No. 5 ranking in Class 3-A.
"Bluffton is a solid team, we've just got to clean up a little bit," coach Garret Talarczyk said. "They ran a quicker offense than what we've seen."
Hilton Head High looked as though it would pull out a thriller in the second game against St. Vincent's, as the Seahawks rallied from a 23-20 deficit to win six of the last seven points. But the comeback was for naught in the third game, as the Saints broke an 18-all tie with four straight points to set up a tri-match split.
Sierra Davis led the Seahawks with 18 kills on the night while fellow junior Brantley Herrington chipped in eight kills and eight blocks. Claire Kent also added 10 kills and seven blocks.
"It's a learning experience for us," Talarczyk said. "We'll get back at it and learn from our mistakes. We'll see them next week and hopefully it will be a different outcome."