It seems the demise of championship droughts have been all the rage this week.
The Nikiski Bulldogs snapped an 11-year skid of Southcentral Conference volleyball championships with a five-set victory over Grace Christian on Saturday night at Houston High School.
After twice losing to Grace in five sets this season, Nikiski beat the Grizzlies when it counted most, winning with scores of 12-25, 25-16, 25-18, 14-25 and 16-14.
“It was awesome,” said an enthusiastic Nikiski coach Stacey Segura. “After five years of coaching and trying to build the program, these girls did a great job.”
The win was the first for Nikiski over Grace in a conference game in the five years that Segura has been head coach.
It had been since 2005 when the Bulldogs last claimed the region crown, Segura’s senior year as a player, when Bruce King was coach.
Segura said the moment of victory Saturday seemed to slow down time for a second.
“I felt like the whistle took forever to blow, and when it did, time sped up again,” she said.
With a sturdy defense that fueled their run to the title, the Bulldogs went undefeated over the two-day tournament, with wins over Redington and Seward en route to the title match.
Senior middle hitter Ayla Pitt, junior outside Melanie Sexton and sophomore libero Kelsey Clark were named to the First Team All-Conference list, while junior outside Jamie Yerkes was on the Second Team. Sophomore setter Emma Wik also received the Good Sportmanship award.
Pitt led the Nikiski attack in the championship game by doling out 20 kills with three blocks. Emily Hensley added four kills, and Yerkes had four aces. Setter Kaitlyn Johnson provided 21 assists with three aces, Wik had 15 assists and three aces, and on defense, Clark had 31 digs and Sexton had 30.
“When our defense was on, we were unstoppable,” Segura said. “No matter what happened, we kept our composure, and had great attitudes. Everyone was positive and that was huge this weekend.”
With the win, Nikiski will also enter the state tournament with the No. 1 seed from the Southcentral Conference, giving the Bulldogs a great shot of making a deep run at the state meet.
“It’s pretty awesome, the times we’ve gone in as the second and third seeds, it’s been tough to play and it’s dropped us in the losers bracket,” Segura said. “I’m really excited to see who our next opponent is, and see where they can take this team.”
Seward 3, Homer 0
The Seward Seahawks earned their first state berth in five years with a three-set victory in the Southcentral Conference tournament third-place game Saturday.
Seward won with scores of 25-20, 25-19 and 25-21.
Seward coach Jamie Frederickson attributed her team’s first state appearance since 2011 to stout serving over the weekend.
“We just had good serving across the board,” Frederickson said.
Outside hitter Tia Miranda finished the weekend with 15 kills, leading all Seward hitters, earning her a spot on the All-Conference First Team list. Also included on the First Team list was setter Maille Moriarty and libero Kimmie Hubbard. Miranda had four kills in the third-place game.
Ashley Jackson was named Seward’s Good Sport member.
Homer senior middle Mary Hana Bowe was also named to the All-Conference First Team, while senior libero Izabelle Hagge and senior outside Malina Fellows were both on the Second Team.
Mariners coach Kristie Mastre said she was “super proud” of the team for putting it together for the end of the year and just coming up short of a state spot.
“After everything we’ve gone through this season, I’m happy to see them pull together,” Mastre said.
Homer 3, ACS 1
In order to get to the third-place game, Homer had to fight off a determined Anchorage Christian Schools squad.
ACS won the first set 22-25, but Homer came back to win the remaining games 25-16, 25-11 and 25-17.
Seward 3, Houston 0
Seward began Saturday morning with a sweep of Houston, winning with scores of 25-20, 25-16 and 25-9. The victory put Seward into the tournament third-place game later in the day.
Nikiski 3, Seward 2
A Nikiski win over Redington and a Seward win over ACS meant the two squads met in Friday’s semifinal game, with the winner going to state.
The Bulldogs clinched their ticket to state with a thrilling come-from-behind victory. Seward took a 2-0 match lead with set wins of 25-19 and 25-20, but Nikiski roared back with wins of 25-9 and 25-14, then won the winner-take-all set 18-16.
“That match was not fun for me,” Segura quipped.
Segura said after falling into a 2-0 match hole and at the brink of elimination, she told her team that they had to show energy and excitement for every point won, which helped to swing the momentum of the match.
“I was nervous, but I had full faith in my team that they could do it,” she said. “They fought for every single point.”
In the winner-take-all set, Nikiski grabbed an early lead, and while Seward rallied to tie it up on several occasions, the Seahawks were never able to take a lead and the Bulldogs held on to win.
“I have to hand it to Seward, they played this awesome, Hulk-smash defense,” Segura explained.
Ayla Pitt led Nikiski’s offense with 13 kills and four blocks, Jamie Yerkes had 10 kills, Kaitlyn Johnson recorded six aces and 27 assists, and Emma Wik provided 13 assists and had five aces.
On defense, Kelsey Clark made her return from an ankle injury to record 32 digs and Melanie Sexton had 28 digs.
Seward coach Jamie Frederickson said after a number of close games with Nikiski in the regular season, she was expecting the Bulldogs to fight back after falling into a 2-0 deficit.
“We knew they wanted it, and gave everything they had,” Frederickson said. “They were hitting hard, diving for everything, you could see them on court, they looked so elated with every point.”
Jackson had four service aces for Seward, while Miranda and Coral Petrosius both ended with six kills.
Seward 3, ACS 0
The Seahawks began their tournament run Friday with a sweep of ACS, winning with scores of 25-15, 25-20 and 25-12.
Nikiski 3, Redington 0
The Bulldogs opened their weekend with a three-set sweep of the Huskies Friday afternoon, setting them up with the Friday evening matchup with Seward.
Nikiski won with scores of 25-7, 25-6 and 25-6.
Freshman setter Kaitlyn Johnson helped spur the Bulldogs with seven aces and 17 assists, and sophomore Emma Wik provided four aces and seven assists.
For the Nikiski attack, senior Ayla Pitt had eight kills, Jamie Yerkes notched seven kills, and Kelsey Clark recorded 13 digs while Melanie Sexton had seven digs.
Grace 3, Homer 0
The Grizzlies sent the Mariners to the consolation bracket Friday evening with a three-set sweep.
Homer 3, Houston 0
Homer kicked off its tournament slate with a 25-21, 25-17 and 25-19 victory over the Hawks on Friday.
Player of Year: Annie VanderWeide, Grace Christian
Coach of the Year: Kari Frantz, Grace Christian
First team: Annie VanderWeide, Grace Christian; Kimmie Hubbard, Seward; Mary Hana Bowe, Homer; Ayla Pitt, Nikiski; Mallie Moriarty, Seward; Chaunice Carr, ACS; Melanie Sexton, Nikiski; Amanda Lorenzo, Houston; Kaitlin Cowell, Grace; Kelsey Clark, Nikiski; Tia Miranda, Seward; Anna Christiansen, Grace.
Second team: Jamie Yerkes, Nikiski; Melina Fellows, Homer; Aspen Ruth, Houston; Allison Hagen, Grace; Taylor Ryan, Redington; Cassie Kapunial, Houston; Izabelle Hagge, Homer; Rayme Harris, Redington.