BLUFFTON - The long road back to the Class 3A state volleyball championship was not so long after all.
Two years after winning its first state title, Bluffton's volleyball team is headed back to the championship match after the Bobcats rebounded from losing the first game Wednesday to beat Camden 3-1 (24-26, 25-17, 25-16, 25-21) and claim their third Lower State title in five years.
Bluffton will face D.W. Daniel High School in the Class 3A championship match at 4 p.m. Saturday at White Knoll High. Daniel defeated Riverside in five games for the Upper State title Wednesday.
The Bulldogs' season ended in the Lower State finals for the second consecutive season - they lost to eventual state runner-up Hilton Head High last year after ending the Bobcats' state title defense in the second round of the playoffs.
"That was really our motivation," said Bluffton junior Kellie Cooper, who had 10 kills Wednesday. "We said we weren't going to let them do that this year."
That goal did not look so promising early on.
For the second time in their four playoff matches, the Bobcats dropped the first game, losing three consecutive points to squander a 24-23 lead. After a spirited discussion between games, Bluffton came back to win its second-round match against Airport in four games, and coach Al Stern said it was clear his team did not need a similar pep talk Wednesday.
"The difference was in the first game against Airport, we really didn't play badly, but you just didn't see that intensity," Stern said. "Tonight in the first game, we played with intensity - it was a really great volleyball game - so the fact that we lost that game really didn't bother me."
With a balanced attack - Ella Wyman's 36 assists went to five players, led by Mackenzie Cooler and Lisa Glover with 12 kills apiece - the Bobcats clawed back into it quickly. They took control of the second game with a 6-0 run to go up 18-10, reeled off a 7-0 spurt to seize the momentum in the third game and endured a 9-1 Camden run to hold on in the fourth game.