Southcentral volleyball preview: Teams fight for 2 state spots

There’s a new wrinkle in the Southcentral Conference volleyball tournament at Homer High School this year, and the goal of coaches is not to worry about it.

The tournament has seen its automatic state berths drop from three to two.

There is a way for a third team to get to state though. ASAA will give an at-large berth based on head-to-head competition, common opponents, matches against other Class 3A state qualifiers and overall win percentage against Class 3A schools.

If relying on that formula to extend a season may be a little risky, that would be why coaches prefer finishing in the top two.

“I don’t fully understand it,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said. “That’s actually one of the things that’s been motivating us this year.

“We wanted to get the No. 1 seed and get to the championship so we don’t have to deal with it.”

So far, so good for the Bulldogs. Last season, Nikiski snapped an 11-year drought by winning the Southcentral Conference title and also finished second at the Class 3A state tournament.

Returning six who were starters, the Bulldogs went 12-0 in conference to secure the top seed. That means Nikiski has the lone bye at the tourney, and will need to defeat the winner of No. 4 seed Houston and No. 5 seed Anchorage Christian Schools to make the championship and earn a fourth state berth in Segura’s six years at the helm. That semifinal match is at 4 p.m.

“We definitely want to focus on getting past that first game because that gives us a ticket to state,” Segura said. “Second-most important, we don’t want to be second-best.

“We want the girls to defend their title.”

No. 2 seed Seward and No. 3 seed Grace Christian have both tested the Bulldogs this year, each forcing five sets in one of the two conference losses.

But Nikiski’s deep roster of talent will be tough to overcome.

Senior outside hitter Melanie Sexton has been on varsity all four years, while junior libero Kelsey Clark runs a well-positioned and slick-passing defense.

Sophomore setter Kaitlyn Johnson and junior setter Emma Wik have quarterbacked an offense that features hard hitting from players like senior outside hitter Jamie Yerkes and junior middle Bethany Carstens.

“I’m really pleased the girls picked up right where we left off after last season,” Segura said. “We haven’t had any major hiccups all season.”

Seward, which finished 9-3 in the league and won a tiebreaker with Grace to get the No. 2 seed, starts with a match against No. 7 Redington at 2 p.m. today.

The Seahawks, who defeated Redington twice this season, finished third at the Southcentral Conference tourney last season to earn a first state berth since 2011.

Seward got confidence from going to Grace Christian on Friday and pulling out a five-game victory over the Grizzlies.

Seahawks coach Jodi Kurtz said middle hitter Coral Petrosius, setter Maille Moriarity, defensive specialist Ashley Jackson and outside hitter Riley Von Borstel were all clicking in the match.

No. 6 seed Homer opens against Grace at noon, with the winner moving on to face the Seward-Redington winner in the semifinals at 6 p.m.

Homer, which finished 2-10 in the league, aims to return to state after trips in 2014 and 2015.

In addition to performing all the duties required of a coach hosting the tournament, Erin Brege has her team ready to face Grace.

Brege said Homer lost 3-0 to the Grizzlies both times in conference play, but has taken games off Grace in tournament play.

“With our improvement from this season, the girls know what to expect from Grace,” Brege said. “It’s going to be a great game to start with.”

Homer is young, with five juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen. But Brege said the Mariners have come a long way this season not only physically, but understanding the tactics of the game, as well.

One area Brege said will be key for Homer is serving.

“Across the board, that is going to have to be something players count on each other for — serving performance and proficiency,” Brege said.

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