The Kodiak volleyball team wrapped up a 13-0 run in the Northern Lights Conference this season by topping Wasilla in the NLC title game 22-25, 25-9, 25-16 and 25-23.
The Bears, Warriors and Soldotna will represent the NLC at the state tournament.
Earlier Saturday, Wasilla had earned the right to be in the championship by defeating Soldotna 21-25, 27-25, 25-13 and 25-23.
Not only did that get the Warriors to the championship, but it forced SoHi to play Dimond, the No. 1 seed out of the Cook Inlet Conference, at the first round at state.
Soldotna had swept Wasilla during the opening day of play Thursday, but Stars coach Sheila Kupferschmid the Warriors played with more confidence Saturday, offering a tougher block and more aggressive repertoire of serves.
“It was a hard-fought match,” Kupferschmid said. “It could have gone either way, but it didn’t go our way.
“I’m proud of the kids’ effort for the entire tournament. They executed, especially the adjustment they had to make.”
The Stars were able to take third despite losing middle hitter Makenna Rosin, a first-team all conference player, to a knee injury late in the season.
Lindsey Wong had been SoHi’s sole setter, but she turned into a middle hitter in her time in the front row.
“She came up big,” Kupferschmid said. “She’s just so athletic.”
Kupferschmid then relied on the depth of her program — shown by the 17-1 C-team and 16-2 JV squad — to fill in the rest.
Taylor Earll, who had never set before, took over some setting responsibilities, as did JV setter Callie Christianson. Ella Stenga, normally an outside hitter, also had to jump in at middle hitter for a rotation.
Also Saturday, Hallie Allen had to serve after not serving all year due to a shoulder injury. Kupferschmid said she came through.
“The kids put in a lot of effort to make that work,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s a whole different chemistry.”
Kodiak 3, Soldotna 0
The Bears, the tourney’s No. 1 seed, moved to 12-0 in conference play by sweeping the Stars 25-21, 25-20 and 25-19 to advance to the NLC tournament championship game.
Kodiak is not an intimidating volleyball when it gets off the bus, with little height to speak of. But Kupferschmid said it’s no secret how the Bears have dominated the conference this season.
“They’re athletic, quick and they move well,” said Kupferschmid, whose squad is the No. 3 seed. “What they do is nothing special, it’s just that they do it so fast.
“They beat us on the front line, but my kids played well.”
Kupferschmid — whose attack got 12 kills from Judah Aley, five apiece from Wong and Sylvia Tuisaula, four from Kearstin Yarnes and one from Drewe Zeek — said her squad hit better than Kodiak.
But that didn’t stop Kodiak from winning up front.
“They’re quicker than us,” Kupferschmid said. “They won a lot of those plays where the ball is just hanging in the air at the net.”
Mental toughness would be another key attribute that makes the Bears hard to beat. SoHi had Game 1 tied at 18 and Game 2 tied at 19, but Kodiak abruptly pulled away both times.
“I think they work hard at that,” Kodiak coach Amy Willis said of confidence under pressure. “A lot of volleyball is a mental game.
“We have some tiny, tiny girls, so for us to do what we need to do, we need to focus on our mental game. We can’t have negative energy.”
With a two-set lead, Kodiak gained confidence and really sped up its attack in Game 3, leading 20-10 after six straight service points from Tracy Gatter, who had 26 assists and nine digs in the match.
Willis said Gatter did a great job of running the attack and finding the weakness of the defense. Kalameli Matautia took advantage, finishing with 14 kills and three aces.
Mica Riina had 10 digs for Kodiak, while Kierra Murphy had three aces and Richelle Walker had four assisted blocks and two solo blocks.
“Last match it was Ryana Recustodio that stepped up,” Willis said. “Everybody on the team has a role and if they’re doing that role, we should win.”
Willis praised the way Kupferschmid and SoHi adjusted to losing Rosin, saying Wong was impressive as a setter and middle hitter.
Also for SoHi, Yarnes had five digs, Allen and Shaylynn Zener had three digs, and Zeek had two blocks and two block assists.
Wasilla 3, Kenai 1
The Kardinals saw their season come to an end Friday night with a loss to Wasilla with scores of 25-18, 16-25, 25-17 and 25-17.
Trying to repeat a thrilling September win over Wasilla, the fairy-tale ending was not in store for the host Kardinals, but Kenai coach Tracie Beck put the year in perspective by saluting the outgoing seniors on the team.
“The girls played so hard, and they played their best ball at the end of the season,” Beck said. “I’m just really proud of them. Just amazing kids with a lot of character, and we’ll miss the seniors horribly.”
Cori Holmes, Alexis Baker, Alli Steinbeck, Jill Kindred and Jacey Ross all put a period on their high school volleyball careers, and several ended on a high note. Steinbeck notched 15 assists and 23 digs, and Holmes had 27 digs. Also, Abby Beck had six kills and seven digs, Cierra King had two aces and Emily Koziczkowski ended with six kills and two stuff blocks.
“We were just encouraging them, and excited for the next adventure,” Beck said. “Some of our seniors from last year were watching (online), and some of the kids were getting texts from them.”
The Kards had begun the tournament on their home floor with a three-set sweep of Palmer on Thursday, but followed that up with a 3-0 loss to Kodiak on Thursday and a 3-1 win over Colony on Friday.
Warriors middle hitter Olivia Vincent led the Wasilla attack with 13 kills, using power and the element of surprise to catch the Kenai defense off-guard on several occasions.
Also for Wasilla, middle Leya DePriest had 10 kills and five blocks, defensive specialist Courtney Anthoney provided 31 digs and nine kills, and outside hitter Brooke Queripal had three kills and eight blocks.
Wasilla coach Josie Cannon attributed solid play at the net and aggression to their success, as well as getting extra hits when the Warriors needed them.
“In the longer rallies, the team that stays aggressive is usually the team that wins it,” Cannon said. “We won our fair share of those.”
Wasilla grabbed an early lead in the first set, but Beck kept Kenai in the game with persistent kill shots from the outside. A shank into the net by Wasilla left Kenai with a 14-12 lead midway through, but a dropped ball on the next point by the Kardinals defense allowed Wasilla to make a comeback.
The Warriors ultimately took the lead on a long rally point that ended with a ricochet by Anthoney that gave the visitors an 18-17 lead. They closed the game on an 8-1 run to take a 1-0 match lead.
A tough net presence by Koziczkowski helped Kenai take an early 11-7 lead in the second set, which the Kards were able to expand into an 18-12 lead. With the feeling that the game was getting away, Cannon took a timeout.
“We had to regroup and put some pressure on girls that haven’t seen much playing time all season,” Cannon said. “In the second match, we had to re-evaluate the whole rotation completely, and we found one we liked.”
Kenai won the set thanks to four straight service points by Cierra King to tie the match up at 1-1.
Wasilla never trailed in the third set, but Kenai held it close for much of the way. After an explosive kill point by Baker, Kenai trailed 16-15, but Wasilla went on a 9-2 tear to win the set and take a 2-1 match lead.
In the fourth set, Wasilla opened up with a 12-6 lead, but Kenai turned right around with seven straight points to lead 13-12. Wasilla then scored eight of the next 10 points to open a daunting lead and won the match on a side-out point from Kenai.
With the season over, coach Beck said the Kards were a team facing an uphill battle throughout the season, and to show up as competitively as they did showed her a lot.
“Every year we work hard and battle, and we’re one of the smallest schools in the region,” Beck said. “That’s probably the hardest part, but they have a lot of heart and they put in the time to be competitive.”
Wasilla 3, Palmer 2
After being knocked out of the winners’ bracket Thursday with a loss to SoHi, the Warriors regrouped for a close win Friday afternoon over Valley rival Palmer.
Wasilla nearly saw its season end early by losing the first two sets 25-14 and 25-13, but rallied back to win the final three with scores of 25-19, 25-14 and 15-13.
Kenai 3, Colony 1
The Kards began Friday with a win over the Knights, with scores of 22-25, 25-16, 25-22 and 26-24.
The victory advanced Kenai into Friday night’s matchup with Wasilla.
Northern Lights All-Conference
Coach of the Year — Amy Willis, Kodiak.
MVP — Carly Venzke, Palmer.
First team — Lindsey Wong, Soldotna; Leya DePriest, Wasilla; Brooke Quenpel, Wasilla; Tracy Gatter, Kodiak; Courtney Anthony, Wasilla; Makenna Rosin, Soldotna; Abby Beck, Kenai; Richelle Walker, Kodiak; Kalimeli Matautia, Kodiak.
Second team — Sylvia Tuisaula, Soldotna; Tiana Lee, Palmer; Mikayla Lirette, Kodiak; Alli Steinbeck, Kenai; Holly Corbin, Palmer; Mikara Klawitter, Colony; Sammy Buresh, Palmer; Judah Aley, Soldotna; Olivia Vincent, Wasilla.