There are only two state berths available at the eight-team Southcentral Conference volleyball tournament Friday and Saturday at Anchorage Christian Schools.
And then there is the matter of the at-large berth to the state tournament, which goes to a team in one of the four Class 3A conferences in the state based on things like head-to-head record and winning percentage.
The team that finishes third at the Southcentral Conference — the largest 3A conference in the state — would appear to have the inside track on the at-large berth, but the at-large berth is not reliable.
For instance, last season, Seward missed being one of the top two teams in the conference tourney by losing to Grace Christian 15-11 in Game 5 in the semifinals. The Seahawks missed the at-large berth to state when Mt. Edgecumbe was upset by Sitka in the two-team Southeast Conference, meaning that conference got the same amount of berths as the Southcentral Conference, then at seven teams.
“I’ve done research and looked at all the teams and I think we would get in,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura, whose team has the top seed out of the South Division. “But I’ll be nervous until we get to the championship.”
Getting to the championship match — and a lock on one of the two state berths — means a team must win its first two matches.
Nikiski starts with Redington, the No. 4 seed from the North, at 9 a.m. The winner of that match plays the winner of South No. 3 Seward and North No. 2 ACS in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. The Bulldogs defeated all three of those teams in conference play.
“We’re not looking past anyone,” Segura said. “We’re going to show up and play at 9 and use that game to work on some things.
“We’re definitely not looking past Seward and ACS. Anything can happen at regions.”
Last season, Nikiski finished 12-0 in the conference in the regular season, but lost the conference title game and then the Bulldogs dropped their first two games at state.
This season, the Bulldogs may have timed a dip in performance better. Nikiski was riding a three-game nontournament losing streak before defeating Seward and Homer last weekend. Segura said the squad is peaking at the right time.
“I think the girls did get out of a funk,” Segura said. “We changed a few things on offense and it made a huge difference. It gave them something else to focus on.”
Segura, in her seventh season, has been to state in four of the past six years. The Bulldogs were 8-2 in the conference and 9-4 in nontournament play this season.
The coach said senior Bethany Carstens will be important for her ability to put the ball down from the middle, while junior Kaitlyn Johnson stands out for her versatility and her improving ability to attack. Senior libero Kelsey Clark runs the defense, while senior Emma Wik and junior Kaycee Bostic also will be a key part of the offense.
Homer earned the No. 2 seed out of the South, also finishing with an 8-2 record in the league, but losing the tiebreacker to Nikiski. The Mariners went to state in 2014 and 2015 and are looking to return under first-year coach Sara Pennington.
The Mariners open up with a match against Houston, No. 3 from the North, at 1:30 p.m. Friday. The winner of that match plays the winner of Grace Christian, No. 1 from the North, and Kenai Central, No. 4 from the South, at 8:30 p.m. in the semifinals.
Homer swept Houston in the conference match Sept. 29. In conference play against Kenai, the Mariners notched 3-1 and 3-0 victories. Homer lost in five games on Sept. 7 to Grace.
Kenai Central plays Grace Christian at 10:30 a.m. The Kardinals, who do not have any seniors on the team, were swept by the Grizzlies in the conference match this season on Oct. 12. Kenai does own a 3-2 victory on Sept. 8 over potential semifinals opponent Houston.
The Kardinals are in their first year at Class 3A. Kenai hadn’t been to state at the Class 4A level since 2005.
Seward, which last went to state in 2016, opens up with ACS at noon Friday. The Seahawks own a 3-1 victory over the Lions in conference play. As for potential opponents in the semis, Seward defeated Redington and lost twice to Nikiski.