The Nikiski volleyball team last qualified for the Class 3A state tournament in 2007.
Now the Bulldogs are one win away from a return trip.
Nikiski faces Seward in the first round of the Southcentral Conference tournament at 4 p.m. Friday at Anchorage Christian Schools. The match is a state play-in game because the winner advances straight to the tournament championship -- and both the champion and runner-up move on.
"It's definitely great for us," Nikiski coach Amber Oliva-Douglas said. "We are coming into the region tournament in a stronger position than we have in the past."
The Bulldogs are the No. 3 seed thanks their 5-3 regular-season conference record, while Seward is the No. 2 seed.
Grace Christian is No. 1 and gets a state play-in game against the winner of the tournament opener between No. 4 Anchorage Christian Schools or No. 5 Cordova.
For the Bulldogs, earning the No. 3 seed is an accomplishment because they've been a No. 4 or 5 each year since 2007.
It's also an advantage because instead of needing two wins to reach state, they need one.
"The girls are ready for this match," Oliva-Douglas said. "They are looking forward to the opportunity to play Seward and hopefully come out on top."
It will be a tight match if it resembles the teams' two meetings during the regular season.
Seward won both contests, but it took five sets each time. All 10 games were decided by five points or less.
"What's great is we have a really great relationship with Seward," Oliva-Douglas said. "When we're on the floor, it's a war. But when we're off the floor, we are glad to see each other and happy to see each other succeed."
A key battle on the court Friday will be between Seward middle hitter Chelsea Clarke and Nikiski's front line.
Oliva-Douglas believes the Seahawks will use Clarke to attack Nikiski's setter on defense.
To combat the approach, the Bulldogs must communicate.
That, the coach said, requires a team effort.
"I think right now, for the team as a whole, the chemistry is very solid," Oliva-Douglas said. "They are jelling and meshing well as a team. That is really the strength of the program this year."
Among those expected to make solid contributions for the Bulldogs are Dylan Holloway, Minna Bogard, Savannah Griffel, Taylor Calderwood and Rebekah Krogseng.
"I'm really proud of our season," Oliva-Douglas said. "They have worked really hard, and they are ready to go to the big dance."