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NLC volleyball squads set for playoffs

Posted: November 3, 2011 - 7:40am  |  Updated: November 3, 2011 - 7:45am

The 2011 Northern Lights Conference volleyball tournament bracket suggests No. 1 seeds Skyview and Palmer will reach the championship.

History says both the Panthers and Moose won't reach the title game.

Top-seeded squads lost before the title match in 2009 and 2010.

"I think six teams are capable of winning this thing depending on who plays their best volleyball," Soldotna coach Bruce King said.

Skyview, SoHi, Kenai Central and Homer begin the NLC tournament today at Colony High School, joining Palmer, Wasilla, Kodiak and the host school.

SoHi, the NLC Southern Division No. 2 seed, faces Northern Division No. 3 Wasilla at 1 p.m. Homer, a No. 3 seed, faces No. 2 Kodiak at 3 p.m. Southern Division No. 4 Kenai Central gets top-seeded Palmer at 5 p.m. And Skyview, the other No. 1 team, draws Colony at 7 p.m.

Three teams advance to state.

"Every team has an opportunity to move on," said Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid, whose squad was the No. 1 seed last year but lost in the semifinals to Palmer and the third-place semis to Soldotna. "It's, 'Who is going to play well that particular match?'"

Skyview finished the regular season 11-4 overall and 7-3 in the NLC behind seniors Amanda McDowell, Britanie Whipple, Mary Hauptman and Karlie Self, juniors Marlee Cunningham and Holly Ramsell, and sophomore Cheyenne Laber.

But the Panthers possessed a similar record -- and a No. 1 seed -- entering the tournament in 2010, when they failed to reach state.

Kupferschmid insists last season's result is put to rest, saying the team is focused on playing with cohesiveness.

"That hasn't even been a topic -- that's in the past," the coach said. "My kids go out and play every match. It doesn't matter if it's a regular-season match or a region match. My kids go out and play hard."

With five seniors, Skyview is experienced.

But the unit's success, Kupferschmid said, hinges on the middle hitters. Also key is blocking and defense.

The Panthers defeated the Knights 3-0 during the regular season.

"They have the talent, they have the ability," Kupferschmid said of her squad. "Now it's a matter of eliminating mental mistakes, getting in a groove and finding that team chemistry."

Meanwhile, SoHi looks to advance after losing to Colony in the match for third in 2010.

Like the Panthers, the Stars have been on the wrong end of upsets in this tournament. Kodiak upended SoHi in the first round in 2009, forcing the No. 1 Stars to navigate the consolation bracket for an eventual third-place finish.

SoHi reversed its fortunes the following season, derailing Skyview midway through the tournament when the Panthers were a No. 1 seed.

Now the Stars (10-4, 6-4) feature three seniors -- Sydney Goggia, Kylee Woodford and Lagi Wong -- and a group of experienced juniors.

The juniors are Kaycee Munn, Kaillee Skjold, Heidi Westerman, Emily Schneider, Natalie Kress and Jelly Nolden.

"They have all been there before," King said.

King likes the draw against Wasilla, a unit he said relies heavily on its left-outside hitters and is solid in passing and defense.

And with nine upperclassmen, the coach believes SoHi can make a deep run.

The Stars' fate likely will be determined by their ability -- or lack thereof -- to pass with consistency.

"We have felt all year that we have the personnel to pull it off, to make it to the state tournament," King said. "We had some really good nights and some not-so-good nights, but we expect them to step up."

No squad hopes history repeats itself more than Kenai Central, which after finishing 0-10 in the NLC for the second consecutive year needs a huge upset to extend its season.

It doesn't help that the Kardinals are without senior outside hitter Lauren Schams, their most experienced and dynamic player.

Schams sustained an ankle injury in the season finale against SoHi, leaving a void in an already thin lineup.

"That's a tough one," coach John Kennedy said. "Those are big shoes to fill right there. She's our leader."
Yet Kennedy understands the slate is wiped clean.

For Kenai Central to have a chance, the coach said, each athlete must contribute toward a collective effort.
Those players include Briana King, Cassie Ross and Jodi Cook.

"If we play as individuals, we won't have a chance. We have to play as team," Kennedy said. "It's going to take all of them to make it happen. If they can play as one, then anything is a possibility."

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