One word can sum up Rock Hill's 3-1 Upper State Championship victory over Hillcrest: Vindication.
Rock Hill's Lady Bearcats advance to the school's second-ever volleyball state championship after a grueling four-set victory over bitter rival Hillcrest. The Bearcats dropped Game 1 by a 17-25 score before reeling off three games to win the match, 25-19, 25-22, and 25-19.
The Bearcats last advanced to the state title game in 1978, when they were defeated by Wando.
Coach Cindy Elder and her group of star-studded players can savor the victory for only a short while. The No.1-ranked Bearcats (37-1) must prepare for Saturday's state championship against Aiken, a 3-0 winner over White Knoll. The championship game tips off at 6 p.m. at White Knoll High School in Lexington.
Never miss a local story.
"These kids, they've done everything they've needed to do," said Elder, while taking a break from celebrating with the more than 500 fans that filled the gym. "Most of the time this season we've been a very strong offensive team, so we really needed to finish points early because our defense has not been as a strong as other people.
"But tonight, defensively we played the best we have all year. After the first game, we came out a little shaky with a little nerves in the beginning, but once they calmed down and made up their mind (it was over). These kids just refuse to lose."
The Rams, winners of two of the last three titles, ousted the Bearcats from the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. Hillcrest downed Rock Hill in straight sets in 2007 en route to winning back-to-back state titles. The Rams edged the Bearcats again in 2008 but then fell to eventual state champion Byrnes in the Upper State Championship game. And, last year, Hillcrest slipped past Rock Hill in a five-set thriller in the second round.
After dropping the first game, the Bearcats wondered if the Rams' playoff supremacy would continue. Enter Clemson-bound senior Karis Watson and SaraBeth Bragg, who together powered the Bearcats to a come-from-behind victory in Game 2.
"They've beaten us three years in a row and ever since last year we've been waiting for the chance to get revenge on them. So, after they won the first game we all got together at said 'This is our last game at Rock Hill High, seniors, so we have to go out with bang,'" said Watson.
Trailing 9-11, Bragg took over the serve for Rock Hill and Watson did her work at the net, where she collected back-to-back blocks and added four kills to help propel the Bearcats in front 16-11. Rock Hill won the game, 25-19, and carried the momentum into the third game, where they led 19-10 before fending off a furious Rams' rally. Anna Greely, who celebrated her 17th birthday Thursday, sealed the third game victory with a kill.
Watson added, "We just gave it our all and just had to keep our composure and go out there and do everything we knew how to do and stop them from taking the win from us because it was ours."
Watson finished with an eye-popping 27 kills and 6 blocks. Christina Vereb did not have her best offensive showing, but made up for it with a team-best 13 digs and a pair of aces.