The Northern Lights Conference tournament at Soldotna High School proved it’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen in volleyball.
All Soldotna knows is the Stars are going to state.
In a tournament turned nearly upside down by No. 4 seed Palmer rolling to the championship and losing just one game in the process, the Stars were one of three teams to secure a state berth. Soldotna, the No. 3 seed, did that Thursday by defeating No. 2 Wasilla in five sets.
The Warriors and Moose also will be going to state, meaning top-seeded Colony will be staying home. Palmer defeated Wasilla 16-25, 25-21, 25-23 and 25-23 in the championship. In the first match Saturday, Wasilla earned a state berth by ousting the Knights 25-19, 25-18 and 25-17.
Colony coach Steve Reynolds won Coach of the Year, but actually presented his award to Palmer’s Jayme DeHart. DeHart played for Reynolds when he coached at Palmer, and DeHart also is a former assistant coach for Reynolds.
After sewing up a state berth Thursday, the Stars were left to chase a conference championship. They twice failed to get into the championship game — getting swept by sizzling Palmer on Friday, then losing a 26-24, 17-25, 25-23, 23-25 and 15-13 heartbreaker Saturday to Wasilla to finish third.
“Palmer came in as the four seed and literally swept every game (Friday),” Soldotna head coach Luke Baumer said. “I told my team that’s volleyball. You never have any idea what’s going to happen.”
Baumer told his team all they could do was be mentally and physically prepared for every match. After losing Kylie Ness three weeks ago, Baumer gave his team credit for doing exactly that, pushing the Warriors as far as possible Saturday and defeating them Thursday.
The SoHi coach considers Wasilla one of the top three teams in the state.
“Both teams just went blow for blow, side-out for side-out, run after run,” Baumer said of Saturday’s match.
Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula, the conference MVP, and Bailey Armstrong, a second-teamer, traded punishing kills with Wasilla first-teamers Josi Schachle and Jada Schultz throughout the match.
Baumer said it was Wasilla’s ability to keep the foot to the gas throughout the match that may have made the difference. Thursday, Wasilla took the first two games, then Warriors coach Katie Oxspring said her team suffered a lapse in concentration.
“This time was definitely not like that,” Baumer said. “If they were going to lose, they were going to lose going down swinging.”
Schultz had four kills and two stuff blocks in the fifth game, while Tuisaula had six kills. The match ended when a Tuisaula kill attempt went just wide.
“She is the game changer all the other coaches talk about,” Baumer said of Tuisaula. “I told her we’d set her in that situation 100 more times, even knowing the result. She’s our best player, all out.”
Baumer said Serena Foglia also had a great game blocking, while dig artist Holleigh Jaime also made first-team all-conference.
“Everyone stuck together all the way through the fifth game,” Baumer said. “That’s been our big point all season — to make sure we stick together no matter what.”
In a classic Cinderella storyline, Palmer went on a tear Friday to punch a state ticket and earn a state championship berth.
Palmer began the day with a 3-0 win over No. 5 Kodiak to advance into a matchup with the No. 1 seed Colony Knights.
The Moose then upset the Knights 3-0 to clinch the second state berth from the conference, punctuating the match with a third set score of 25-5.
Palmer capped Friday night with a 3-0 victory over host SoHi to clinch a spot in Saturday’s championship game. The Moose prevailed with scores of 28-26, 25-15 and 25-17.
The astonishing run left the field wide-eyed.
“Palmer, wow, did they come on like nobody’s business,” Baumer said. “When I saw how they beat Colony, I thought hopefully we can hold our own at this point.
“Their outside hitters were just absolutely destroying every team from every angle.”
In the loser-out game, Wasilla, which lost Thursday to Soldotna, beat Kodiak 3-0 to eliminate the Bears.
After knocking out 29 kills against Wasilla on Thursday, SoHi outside hitter Ituau Tuisaula notched 12 kills and two aces against Palmer. Senior hitter Bailey Armstrong added three kills, junior setter Sierra Kuntz provided 17 assists, senior libero Holleigh Jaime had 15 digs and senior middle Serena Foglia added two blocks.
Baumer said the Stars didn’t necessarily play bad against Palmer, but the Moose just continued to find ways to pummel their way past SoHi’s front line of defense.
“We stayed together, had good energy and were getting a lot of balls up and going through the strategy we wanted,” he said. “The problem was their outside hits were so strong they were busting through our blocks.”
Most Valuable Player: Ituau Tuisaula, Soldotna.
Coach of the Year: Steve Reynolds, Colony.
First team: Madison Wakaliuk – Colony, Kelsey Giese – Palmer, Kristen Beames – Palmer, Katrina Pruitt – Kodiak, Talia Villnerve – Palmer, Josi Schachle – Wasilla, Jada Schultz – Wasilla, Holleigh Jaime – Soldotna, Sam Bryant – Colony, Ituau Tuisaula – Soldotna.
Second team: Heidi Brewer – Wasilla, Lily Hyce – Wasilla, Emily Cizek – Wasilla, Bailey Armstrong – Soldotna, Ashley Luto – Kodiak, Bella Brown – Colony, Hallee Yundt – Colony, Meagan Grogan – Palmer, and Deana McNutt – Palmer.