Cook Inlet Academy’s final matchup at the Alaska School Activities Association Class 1-2A Volleyball State Championships was a close one, and not just because both teams were nicknamed the Eagles.
Cook Inlet battled New Stuyahok for every serve, point and game of its last match at Dimond High School on Saturday. The teams played a fifth game before Cook Inlet could claim the third-place title as its own with a 15-9 victory.
Cook Inlet’s player of the match, junior Megan Bauder, said the team knew it would be a difficult match.
“We were expecting it to be tough,” Bauder said.
New Stuyahok coach Rachel Panamarioff agreed. She said Cook Inlet was a “competitive team.”
New Stuyahok, the defending state champion, entered the 2011 competition after a strong season.
“It was a big accomplishment coming in as region champs,” Panamrioff said.
Senior Kelsie Leaf said her team had to work for the win, adding that it never felt like the Eagles were just going to cruise to a victory.
“Against New Stu, you can never think they’re out of it,” Leaf said. “I always felt like we had to keep working at it.”
Game 1 went to New Stuyahok, 25-23.
Game 2 was going toward New Stuyahok, with the Cook Inlet down 21-14, when sophomore Nicole Moffis stepped back to serve. The Cook Inlet teammates watched as one player helped change the team’s path.
“I think when Nicole served, had that big, long run, that was a huge moment,” senior Chloe Nelson said.
Cook Inlet went from a 21-14 deficit to a 25-21 Game 2 victory on the strength of Moffis’ serve. New Stuyahok called a timeout at 21-19, but it didn’t change the Moffis momentum.
CIA coach Lindsay Keener said the string of serves pretty much won that game for the team.
Moffis, who was named player of the match in Friday’s game against Kenny Lake, said she was just playing the game. This is her first year playing volleyball for CIA.
“I was just trying to get the ball over the net, really,” Moffis said.
New Stuyahok didn’t give up after that display. It took an early lead in Game 3 and didn’t let Cook Inlet get ahead for more than a point or two. That game ended 25-17, putting New Stuyahok ahead in the match, 2-1.
Game 4 could have gone to Cook Inlet early — the team took the lead after a series of kills and an unreturned serve brought the score to 4-3. But New Stuyahok stayed close the entire game. CIA finished the game with a 25-22 victory.
CIA made quicker work of the fifth game, taking third place in the state after it won three of five games in the final match.
“I’m so happy with third place,” Leaf said. “That’s the best our program’s ever done.”
Keener said she was proud of the whole CIA team for its performance at the tournament, and improvement from the year before.
“Last year we lost this game so we got fifth,” Keener said.
CIA’s player of the match, Bauder, had kills and saves in each of the last two games that helped win the match.
Shana Apokedak was New Stuyahok’s player of the match.
Beyond each player’s performance, Moffis said she thought the energy and cheering Cook Inlet’s team brought to Anchorage this weekend was the reason for much of the Eagles’ success, and the improvement over games earlier in the season.
“We finally started playing as a team,” Moffis said.
CIA had lost in Friday’s semifinals to Kenny Lake in a four-game contest. Kenny Lake lost in five games to Klawock for the state championship on Saturday. Kalskag topped Lumen Christi in five games for fourth place.
Leaf and Moffis made the all-tournament team for the Eagles.