Al Stern doesn't want to get too ahead of himself. But the Bluffton High School volleyball coach already has a pretty good indication of the Bobcats' road to the Class 4-A state championship.
He has an idea of who will emerge from the Upper State side of the bracket. He also knows the key teams that stand in Bluffton's way in Lower State. And yet, none of that will matter if his team falls to Goose Creek Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the first round.
"I've never seen them play, but I've talked to some people who have," Stern said of Goose Creek. "(They) say they're a solid team. They're not the state champion team but they're definitely the type of team that if you don't play your best game, they're going to beat you."
Stern's Bobcats are one of four area teams who begin their playoff runs over the next two nights. Whale Branch Early College High School hosts Baptist Hill Monday in the Class 1-A opener while Battery Creek travels to Silver Bluff as the No. 4 seed in Class 2-A.
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Matches resume Tuesday with the Bobcats and rival Hilton Head Island High, which opens the Class 3-A postseason at home against St. James.
The Seahawks (23-5), who cruised to the Region 8-AAA title, also have big goals for this postseason run after being upset at the hands of Airport in the third round a year ago.
"I just didn't think we had all the parts last year and I think we do this year," coach Garret Talarczyk said. "More leadership and the girls are developed more. We're just stronger. They really want this state championship and they believe in themselves."
Bluffton (34-13-2) swept its way to a perfect 10-0 mark in Region 8-AAAA this season. The Bobcats did so thanks in part to Madison Cooler, but Cooler strained her knee last week in a win over Ashley Ridge. Her status for Goose Creek and any future postseason match is unknown, Stern said.
"Right now, I'm planning on playing without her," Stern said. "I think we can still beat them, but we'll just have to work that much harder."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are getting healthy at the right time. Sophomore middle blocker Brantley Herrington returned to practice in recent days after the Hilton Head High coaching staff sat her for a couple weeks to help heal the tendinitis in her shoulder.
Herrington will play against St. James and in a possible second-round match against the Gilbert/Darlington winner on Wednesday.
"She's good to go," Talarczyk said. "Like I said, we just sat her for a couple weeks. She's been practicing this week and she's hitting the ball strong. I can tell that she's stronger."
Note: All matches start at 6 p.m.
(3) Baptist Hill at (2) Whale Branch
(4) Battery Creek at (1) Silver Bluff
(4) St. James at (1) Hilton Head High
(3) Goose Creek at (1) Bluffton