The Homer volleyball squad earned its first state berth since 2003 with a captivating semifinal victory over Anchorage Christian Schools on Friday night at Grace Christian in Anchorage in the Southcentral Conference tournament.
The No. 3 seed Mariners then kept rolling Saturday by beating top seed Grace Christian 25-20, 15-25, 25-19 and 25-15 for the tournament title.
Also Saturday, Nikiski earned a second state berth in three years by defeating Cordova 25-10, 25-13 and 25-17 in the third-place match.
After sweeping Seward in three sets earlier Friday, the Mariners upset No. 2 ACS in four games in Friday’s semifinals. ACS took the first game 25-22, but Homer rallied back with game wins of 25-16, 25-9 and 25-9.
“Yeah, we’re pretty excited, everyone is happy,” said Homer coach Beth Trowbridge. “It’s been a long time, and they’ve been working really hard.”
Trowbridge, who was a part of the last statebound trip 11 years ago when Homer competed at the Class 4A level, said it felt good to get to state for the first time as a 3A school since the competition is closer. Trowbridge added that the key to Friday’s win was keeping the team relaxed and focused on the job at hand.
“They came out and were kind of hyped up because they knew it was an important game,” Trowbridge said. “We were trying to keep them relaxed, but they came out not really communicating well, and were just being uptight about things.”
However, the first set loss did not faze the Mariners. Trowbridge said once her players settled in and established their rhythm, they were able to keep the Lions off balance.
Larsen Fellows led the Mariners with 16 kills and 10 digs. McKi Needham added 31 assists and 10 digs, Jane Rohr notched nine kills and 11 digs, Kyla Pitzman had six kills, MaryHanna Bowe had three kills, and Maggie Larue notched 19 digs.
Trowbridge said that ACS, which started the day by sweeping Houston, managed to keep numerous points alive with gritty defensive work in the early going, but once Homer learned to play until the ball is down, the Lions were stymied.
“At one point I had to tell the girls, (ACS) kept balls alive amazingly well,” Trowbridge said. “Once they kind of got back into playing mode of not letting balls die, they were fine.”
With Saturday’s big title game looming, Trowbridge said she was glad the pressure of trying to qualify for state was gone.
“We’re just gonna try to keep them relaxed,” Trowbridge said. “They can be totally competitive with Grace, and I expect a great match.”
Nikiski 3, Cordova 0
Led by conference Most Valuable Player Rachel Thompson, the Bulldogs won both of their games Saturday to earn the state berth.
Nikiski started the day with a 25-16, 19-25, 25-14 and 25-14 victory over Seward to move to the third-place match.
Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said the team played well except for that lull in the second game.
“We were playing too easy,” Segura said. “We weren’t as aggressive as we normally are.
“We picked it up and came back. We knew we couldn’t afford to give them another game because playing two matches in a row is a lot of work.”
Thompson had five aces, 24 assists and 12 digs. Ayla Pitt had 11 kills and two blocks, while Brittany Perry had four kills, Melanie Sexton had four kills and four blocks, Laura Hufford had 24 digs and Zykiah Cooney had 15 digs.
The Bulldogs then cruised past Cordova 25-10, 25-13 and 25-17 in the third-place match.
Segura said the most impressive thing about the match was that Nikiski didn’t fall into its usual habit of playing one bad game.
“After the first game against Cordova, I told them I didn’t want to see that up-and-down attitude,” Segura said. “I wanted them to focus on that.”
Segura said a second trip in three years is huge for the program.
“Especially with two seniors, everybody that is younger gets a taste,” Segura said. “The new Alaska Airlines Center is an exciting facility to play in.
“Even the girls on the bench that got to play for a few seconds had tears in their eyes. I want them to hold on to that feeling and make sure they continue that legacy at Nikiski.”
A big part of continuing that legacy will be Pitt. Segura said the sophomore middle hitter had a coming-out tournament.
Pitt had seven kills and five blocks in the third-place match, while Thompson had five aces, 20 assists and 10 digs.
Also for Nikiski, Lauren O’Brien had six kills, Hufford had 18 digs and Cooney had 10 digs.
Brianna Vollertson, who was Nikiski’s good-sport team player, added four kills.
Earlier Saturday, Cordova had made its way into the third-place match by defeating ACS 21-25, 25-22, 25-21 and 25-22.
Grace Christian 3, Nikiski 1
The Nikiski Bulldogs volleyball team started strong but ultimately lost 3-1 to No. 1 seed Grace Christian on Friday in the Southcentral Conference tournament semifinal round at Grace Christian school in Anchorage.
The loss dropped Nikiski into the consolation round of the tournament.
The No. 5 seed Bulldogs won the first set 25-19, but then dropped the final three with scores of 27-25, 25-17 and 25-22.
“The girls went out there and executed the game plan flawlessly for the first two games,” Segura said. “It was awesome.”
Segura said her team once again managed to keep Grace’s power hitter Kinley Hickock in check for much of the match.
Thompson led Nikiski with 28 assists, four kills, 10 digs and two aces. Fellow senior libero Hufford notched 22 digs, while Cooney recorded 12 digs and two aces, Vollertson had 10 kills, Pitt had 10 kills and three blocks and Perry notched four kills.
Nikiski came back from a seven-point deficit to take a 21-19 lead in the fourth game, but the Grizzlies rallied back with superb hitting from Annie Vanderweide to win 25-22.
“When you’re down seven points to the No. 1 team in the region, it’s not a good thing,” Segura said. “But Rachel deserves a ton of credit, she played her heart out.
“The Grace coach (Valerie Steele) agreed with me, she deserves a medal for that game.”
Segura said once Grace fell into a hole after one set, she was not surprised to see the Grizzlies climb out with even play.
“Grace is one of those teams, they’re always mentally stable it seems,” Segura said. “I would love to know the coach’s tricks.”
Seward 3, Houston 0
The Seahawks stayed alive in the consolation bracket with a 25-18, 25-13 and 25-15 victory over the Hawks on early Saturday.
Nikiski 3, Cordova 1
The Bulldogs started Friday with a mild upset over fourth-seeded Cordova, beating the Wolverines 3-1 to advance to the semifinal round of the tournament with game scores of 25-8, 18-25, 25-16 and 25-16.
Thompson racked up 39 assists to go along with 16 digs and a pair of aces. Pitt provided a spark with 14 kills and three blocks, while Hufford provided 20 digs, Cooney had 10 digs, Perry had eight kills and two aces, and Vollertson notched two aces.
Homer 3, Seward 0
The third-seeded Mariners swept the sixth-seeded Seahawks on Friday afternoon with game scores of 25-22, 25-21 and 25-8.
Pitzman led the attack with nine kills, while Larsen Fellows had eight. Rohr had six kills and nine digs, Needham notched 18 assists, Larue had 10 digs and five service aces, and Malina Fellows had a trio of aces.
MVP — Rachel Thompson, Nikiski
Coach of the Year — Valerie Steele, Grace Christian.
First team — Rachel Thompson, Nikiski; Annie Vanderweide, Grace; Kaitlin Cowell, Grace; Laura Hufford, Nikiski; Paige Carter-Kurtz, Seward; Chandelle Erbey, Cordova; Hannah Edmonds, ACS; Bridget Broderick, Grace; Larsen Fellows, Homer; Jane Rohr, Homer; Tanner Ealum, ACS; Kinley Hickok, Grace.
Second team — Caroline Bowden, ACS; Paige McCaffrey, ACS; Sarah Hoepfner, Cordova; Meryll Arcalas, Cordova; McKi Needham, Homer; Kaila Wilkerson, Houston; Aspen Ruth, Houston; Carrie Anderson, Seward; Kiana Clemens, Seward.