Friday afternoon’s loser’s bracket contest between Kodiak and Soldotna at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament laid everything on the line between the two teams.
While SoHi was attempting to stay alive with the bracket stacked against them, Kodiak had all the confidence in the world before the game, and the squad had the stats to back it up. The Bears hadn’t lost a region game to a Northern Lights Conference opponent all year.
That explained the dance that the Bears were performing prior to the opening serve, while the Stars were busy warming up on the other end of the court.
In the end, Kodiak swept Soldotna with scores of 25-21, 25-20 and 25-15, putting an abrupt end to SoHi’s season after two state matches.
The dancing that Kodiak was doing served as an outlet of relieving prematch tension, and the music coming from the Alaska Airlines Arena speakers certainly induced a relaxed vibe, encouraging the Bears to kick their legs and arms in synchronized lines.
But Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid said the bizarre production only served to fire up the Stars.
“I tried to use that as a motivator,” Kupferschmid said. “I pulled my squad and said that’s what they are thinking of you. That’s not typical of a volleyball warmup.
“They weren’t dancing the whole game, I tell you that.”
As lopsided as the final score looked, SoHi kept Kodiak on its toes the entire duration of the match, getting powerful kill points from senior setter Lindsey Wong and junior outside hitter Judah Aley and clutch digs from sophomore Shaylynn Zener.
Senior setter Kearstin Yarnes, who ended the day with five digs and three service points, said simply getting to state was icing on the cake for her.
“We had great chemistry this year,” Yarnes said of her squad, which won the sportsmanship award at state. “With everyone.”
As for the unexpected dancing, Kodiak coach Amy Willis said after an opening-day loss Thursday to East Anchorage — one in which they won the first set — the Bears needed a little pick-me-up to continue their conference championship season.
“We are very small in stature, so we’ve got to do things to help us as much as we can,” Willis explained. “Being silly before a match keeps us calm.”
Kodiak kept its season alive with the win, thanks to big days from Mica Riina, who had 16 digs, 24 service points and four aces, and Richelle Walker, who led the Bears with nine kills. Ryana Recustodio also added had eight kills, Kalameli Matautia had seven kills and Tracy Gatter notched 26 assists.
Wong led SoHi with 10 kills, 19 hits and seven service points.
“I feel like the bracket we were set up in, we had some tough teams,” said Wong, who was named first-team all-state. “But we didn’t quit and just kept playing our game.”
As an outgoing senior, Wong played a burgeoning role for the Stars, a team that was burdened in the last three weeks of trying to overcome a season-ending injury to senior middle hitter MaKenna Rosin.
Additionally, Judah Aley recorded 10 kills and 23 hits, Sylvia Tuisaula had 10 hits, four kills and three service points, Drewe Zeek had two solo blocks and libero Shaylynn Zener won player of the game for SoHi with three digs and three service points.
Kupferschmid said she thought Friday’s match was a much better game than Thursday’s loss to Dimond, a three-set sweep that relegated Soldotna to the second-chance bracket.
“I think our kids played very well, and I’m not just saying that,” Kupferschmid said. “We were right in there, especially in the first two sets.”
Kodiak came out firing against the Stars, staking out a 16-11 lead, then holding off a determined opponent to win by four points.
In the second set, SoHi led a close game until Kupferschmid decided to call timeout when Kodiak tied things up at 15 apiece on a Stars side-out point. Wong said Kodiak’s blocking was throwing the Stars off for long stretches of the action.
“There was a few times we were making mental mistakes, but for the most part, we executed pretty well,” Wong said.
“Coach K” called another timeout when Kodiak stretched the lead to 21-19, but the break was not enough. However, that did not faze the experienced Kupferschmid.
“I’ve been in a lot of matches where we’ve been 0-2, and we’ve come back to win,” Kupferschmid said. “You’re never out of the match, it’s such a momentum game.”
In the third set, the two sides played to a 9-8 Kodiak lead before SoHi called timeout. Upon resumption of the match, Walker helped build the lead using her size and height at the net, pushing the lead to 15-9 on a stingy kill point before the next timeout.
Walker’s continued attack efficiency ultimately led to Kodiak emerging triumphant.
Kupferschmid admitted that a lack of consistency likely hurt her squad, but added that it’s nothing that a little offseason work cannot help.