The Homer volleyball squad earned its first state berth since 2003 with a captivating semifinal victory over Anchorage Christian Schools Friday night at Grace Christian in Anchorage.
After sweeping Seward in three sets earlier in the day at the Southcentral Conference tournament, the No. 3 seed Mariners upset No. 2 ACS in four games. 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.
The win sets Homer up with a shot at the region championship, set for 6 p.m. Saturday against Grace Christian, semifinal winners over Nikiski.
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 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 is glad the pressure of trying to qualify for state is 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.”
Grace Christian 3, Nikiski 1
The Nikiski Bulldogs volleyball team started strong but ultimately lost 3-1 to No. 1 seed Grace Christian, Friday in the Southcentral Conference tournament semifinal round at Grace Christian school in Anchorage.
The loss drops Nikiski into the consolation round of the tournament. The Bulldogs still have a shot to make the Class 3A state tournament, but will need to win Saturday’s third-place game — slated for 4 p.m. — to do so. Nikiski will begin Saturday with a 1 p.m. matchup with the winner of an early game between Seward and Houston.
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 gameplan flawlessly for the first two games,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura. “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.
Senior Rachel Thompson led Nikiski with 28 assists, four kills, 10 digs and two aces. Fellow senior libero Laura Hufford notched 22 digs, while Zykiah Cooney recorded 12 digs and two aces, Brianna Vollertson had 10 kills, Ayla Pitt had 10 kills and three blocks and Brittany 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 number one 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.”
With potentially two Saturday games ahead of them, Segura said it will take more of the same determination to punch Nikiski’s ticket to state.
“The third-place game is tought, because there’s no excitement, no championship on the line,” Segura said. “You either do it or you’re done. If the girls play the way they did today, even against Grace, I think we’ll take control.”
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.
Rachel Thompson racked up 39 assists to go along with 16 digs and a pair of aces. Ayla Pitt provided a spark with 14 kills and three blocks, while Laura Hufford provided 20 digs, Zykiah Cooney had 10 digs, Brittany Perry had eight kills and two aces, and Brianna Vollerston notched two aces.
Homer 3, Seward 0
The third-seeded Mariners swept the sixth-seeded Seahawks Friday afternoon with game scores of 25-22, 25-21 and 25-8.
Kyla Pitzman led the attack with nine kills, while Larsen Fellows had eight. Jane Rohr had six kills and nine digs, McKi Needham notched 18 assists, Maggie Larue had 10 digs and five service aces, and Malina Fellows had a trio of aces.