When Hilton Head High runs through its daily practices, it often does so with Bluffton High School in mind. The Seahawks shape strategies around finding ways to beat their rival and avenge a pair of losses from a year ago.
So when they dropped the opening game of a best-of-three volleyball match against the Bobcats on Thursday -- blowing a five-point lead in the process -- it wasn't time to call it quits just yet.
"We prepared a lot for this game, more than you can imagine," Seahawks outside hitter Judy Slow said. "We weren't going to back down."
Instead, the Seahawks bounced back, winning the next two games and in turn the matchup of the top two ranked teams in Class 3-A Lower State (24-26, 25-20, 25-17).
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The Seahawks defeated Cane Bay (25-19, 25-11) to sweep the tri-match and earn a leg up in the race for the Region 7-AAA title. Bluffton also defeated Cane Bay (25-16, 25-9).
The Seahawks led the opening game against the Bobcats as well, 24-19, but the Bobcats clawed their way back to win six straight points and take the game. In a packed gym at Bluffton High School, Slow said the opposing fans added to the pressure as Bluffton mounted its comeback.
But that pressure seemed all but gone in the final two games, each of which saw an experienced Seahawks team cruise to victory.
"We put ourselves in a hole and had to dig ourselves out," Seahawks coach Garret Talarczyk said. "I told the seniors, 'This is your year. We've been doing this for four years -- blood, sweat and tears. Let's do this.' "
A pair of seniors led the offensive attack. Slow tallied 18 kills in the match. Margo Dill gave the Seahawks (16-3 overall, 7-0 Region 7-AAA) an important second option in the middle and had six kills to put away the deciding third game.
Mackenzie Cooler responded for the Bobcats with 12 kills, but Bluffton (23-11, 4-1) couldn't find a way to maintain its offensive rhythm when she shifted to the back row. Bluffton's attack numbers were also limited by the defensive work of libero Maraia Tremarelli, who constantly prolonged points throughout the match.
"We have to hit less balls to Maraia," Bluffton coach Al Stern said. "We served and hit a lot of balls to Maraia, and she's too good of a defensive player. If you hit every ball to her, you're going to lose. It's that simple."
The Bobcats will have one more chance to alter their strategy -- at least in the regular season. The two teams will meet again, next time on the Seahawks' home floor, on Oct.. 14.
With the rivals considered the heavy favorites in Region 7-AAA, the Seahawks will likely have a chance to clinch the league title on Oct. 14, while the Bobcats likely could clinch a share of the championship and force the use of a tiebreaker.
"We still got one more to go. We have to go back home and do it all over again," Talarczyk said. "This isn't over yet. It's a rivalry, so anything can happen."