With the loss of two big hitters -- Sierra Davis and Brantley Harrington -- to graduation from last season's Class 3-A state final team, it would be easy to understand if Hilton Head Island's volleyball team had taken a step back.
Don't think for a second that's happened.
The No. 2-ranked Seahawks eliminated the Aiken Fighting Green Hornets for the second year in a row with a 3-1 win in the third round of the SCHSL Class 3-A playoffs Thursday evening at Hilton Head Island High School.
Hilton Head Island (35-13-2) advanced to host the Lower State Championship at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Seahawks will host No. 1-ranked Myrtle Beach, a 3-0 winner over Hartsville.
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"The community came out tonight and the crowd was good," Hilton Head Island head coach Garrett Talarczyk said.
"I just want to thank them. Hopefully they'll come out Tuesday, as well."
As for the match, although they lost the second set, the Seahawks were really in control the entire match, winning 25-18, 20-25, 25-17, 25-11. The Green Hornets weren't strong enough up front.
"We just had more power all around," Talarczyk said. "We looked good."
And while the Green Hornets' passing was often out of sorts, Hilton Head Island seemed to always make accurate passes to the right player.
While last year's Seahawks were good, they didn't pass as well as this year's edition. Senior outside hitter Hannah Edelman knows why.
"(It's) the maturity of our defense as a whole. Just growing up," she said.
"Getting more touches on the ball. We've really put in the work over the past year. We practiced getting hit by big hitters, and I really think we're ready for it.
"Defense wins championships, and that's how it's going to be."
Edelman did her part, as usual, with 25 kills and 17 digs.
"I think our teamwork was really up to par tonight," Seahawks junior defender Alexxis Andreas said.
"Whenever someone would get down, there was someone right there."
Andreas had 15 digs, while sophomore setter Lexie Standen had 38 assists.
Aiken (31-10-4) was clearly frustrated by some calls by the officials, and late in the match it boiled over.
"We just tried to keep our cool and play off them," said Hilton Head Island junior middle hitter Da'nesha Miller, who had four kill blocks.
Midway through the final set, the officials ruled a ball that had gone off the hand of Green Hornet Payton Tyler to be out and a point for Aiken.
But after Edelman complained to the officials, they conferred for several minutes before awarding the point to Hilton Head Island, prompting protest from the Green Hornets that lasted several more minutes.
When play resumed, the Seahawks closed out the final set for the win.
"Hilton Head was the better team," an obviously frustrated Aiken head coach Malynda Young said.
White Knoll 3, Bluffton 0: The Timberwolves ended the Bobcats' playoff run short of the Lower State Championship with a 25-13, 25-11, 25-10 win. Bluffton finished 40-15-5.