WASILLA — The top two seeds in the tournament fell, and a pair of Valley teams are headed to the state tournament.
Colony and Palmer each upset a higher seed to clinch two of the conference’s three automatic bids to the state tournament during the first day of the Northern Lights Conference Championships volleyball tournament Thursday at Wasilla High School.
After Colony knocked off the No. 1 seed and the host school, Wasilla, Palmer capped the night with a 3-1 (19-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-21) over second-seeded Soldotna.
“We knew that SoHi’s biggest weapon is their serve,” Palmer head coach Jayme DeHart said after the win over the Stars. “The whole game we just tried to manage their serve, not allowing them to score multiple points in a row.”
DeHart said that same speech was used midway through the match’s decisive Game 4. After the Moose took a 16-10 lead, Soldotna strung together seven straight points. The Stars used a shorter run to take the 20-17 lead.
“I just reminded them of that. It’s all about controlling their serves. Once we got that under control, we could stop the bleeding,” DeHart said.
Led by the attack of Palmer senior Kennedy Bryan, the Moose were able to prevent the Stars from forcing a fifth game. With the Moose trailing 20-17, Bryan blasted the first of her five kills during Palmer’s final eight points of the match.
“Kennedy likes pressure,” DeHart said. “She likes to hit. She likes a lot of pressure. That’s when she’s performing her best.”
Bryan led the Moose with 14 kills. Erika Spencer and Mallory Bradford had nine kills each.
Soldotna head coach Sheila Kupferschmid also liked the performance of some of her players across her front line.
“Personally I thought they couldn’t stop our front line,” Kupferschmid said. “We just struggled in the back row this match.”
Junior Ella Stenga led the Stars with 10 kills in the loss. Freshman Ituau Tuisaula and senior Drew Zeek collected nine kills each. Junior Shaylynn Zener recorded a team-high 11 digs for a Soldotna team that now drops into the loser’s bracket where the Stars will face Kenai Peninsula rival Kenai Central Friday at 11 a.m. at Wasilla High.
“It’s a tough loss, but we’ve got tomorrow,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s a true double-(elimination tournament), so we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s match.”
SoHi needs consecutive wins to reach the state tournament. The SoHi-Kenai winner plays the Wasilla-Kodiak winner Friday at 7 p.m. The winner of that match heads to state.
Fourth-seeded Colony cruised to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-21) victory over Kenai earlier in the day. Third-seeded Palmer beat Kodiak 3-0 (29-17, 25-10, 25-22).
Later in the day, Colony topped short-handed Wasilla 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-18).
With their wins Thursday, Colony and Palmer will meet in the winner’s bracket semifinal round at 5 p.m. The winner of that match scores a spot in the conference title match. The loser will drop down into the lower end of the bracket to face the winner of Friday’s 7 p.m. match Saturday at 10 a.m.