Southcentral Conference volleyball tournament preview: Grace, Nikiski, Seward are top 3 heading into play

The regular season in the Southcentral Conference did a clear job of establishing the top three teams in the league this year.

Now it is the Southcentral Conference tournament’s turn, and in two days time, what happens today and Saturday at Houston High School will be all that matters.

The Southcentral Conference sends three squads to state. The regular season had a clear-cut top three — Grace Christian at 12-0, Nikiski at 10-2 and Seward at 8-4.

The Bulldogs open tournament play at 10 a.m. against No. 7 seed Redington, a team that Nikiski swept twice.

Bulldogs coach Stacey Segura, seeking a third trip to state in her five years at the helm, said nothing can be taken for granted. One of the big questions for Nikiski heading into the tournament shows why.

The Bulldogs did not have libero Kelsey Clark due to injury in the final match of the regular season.

While Melanie Sexton did a solid job filling in for Clark at libero and Rylee Jackson was able to replace Sexton at outside hitter, Segura said the Bulldogs are a better team with Clark on the floor.

“Anything can happen at these tournaments,” Segura said. “If a player gets hurt, it can make a big difference.”

Segura anticipates that Clark will try and play in Friday’s second match — against the Seward-Anchorage Christian Schools winner. The winner of that match goes to state.

The Bulldogs beat Seward twice in conference play, but lost to the Seahawks in the Grizzly Invitational.

“Seward is always tough, you never know if they’re going to have a good day or a bad day,” Segura said. “When they have a good day, they get a lot of momentum and do a lot of things well.”

Regardless of Clark’s status, Segura is confident in an attack led by setters Kaitlyn Johnson and Emma Wik, and powered by hitters Ayla Pitt, Jamie Yerkes, Brianna Vollertsen and Sexton, if she is able to return to the outside.

The group lost to the Grizzlies twice in five sets this season.

“I’m really excited to see where this group of girls is going to go,” Segura said. “I’m really hoping we get to the championship. I’d love to be able to play Grace again.”

Seward’s match against ACS is at 2 p.m. The Seahawks defeated the Lions twice this season.

“I think we’re looking pretty good just because our team has evolved over the season,” Frederickson said. “Our last game against Nikiski was not our best game of the year.

“We learned a bit how to act when the stakes are high in our last home game, and there’s a lot of emotion going against a rival.”

Frederickson is still seeking her first state berth in her third year at the helm. Seward was close to going to state for the first time since 2011 last season, but lost to Homer in the third-place match.

The Seahawks have a lot of experience back from that squad. Senior outside hitter Tia Miranda has been on varsity since freshman year. Seward also relies on libero Kimmie Hubbard and setter Maille Moriarity.

Then, there are three sophomores who all saw varsity time last season — Riley Von Borstel, Ashley Jackson and Coral Petrosius.

“My first year as a coach, they all had the flu heading into regions,” Frederickson said of her team. “You never know what could happen.

“The whole point is they’re playing volleyball because they love volleyball, and want to do it well.”

Homer, at 5-7 in the league, has the No. 4 seed and starts tourney play with a noon match against No. 5 Houston. The winner must face Grace for a spot in the title game.

The Mariners split with the Hawks this season, and were swept on Houston’s home floor Friday.

“We had zero communication and our passes were terrible,” Homer coach Kristie Mastre said. “It just was not a good day for us.”

Mastre will be trying to become the third head coach in the last three years to lead the Mariners to state.

The effort will be led by senior hitter Mary Hana Bowe and fellow seniors Malina Fellows and Izabelle Hagge.

The Mariners have been able to get to state the past two years by turning it on at the right time, and Mastre expects more of the same starting today.

“I just got home from practice and it was a completely different team at practice today compared to what I saw this weekend,” she said. “I think it was a real wakeup call.

“They know if they want to do something with the rest of their season, they’re going to have to step it up a bit.”

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