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Volleyball teams prepare for region tourney

Posted: October 31, 2012 - 11:20pm  |  Updated: October 31, 2012 - 11:40pm

Only in Alaska.

The Kenai Peninsula’s six volleyball teams head off to their conference tournaments this weekend. None will be able to make the trip on a road.

Class 4A schools Soldotna and Kenai Central travel to the Northern Lights Conference tourney in Kodiak. Both the Stars and Kards drove to Anchorage on Wednesday, then flew to the Rock.

Class 3A schools Skyview, Nikiski, Homer and Seward travel to the Southcentral Conference tournament in Kodiak.

Skyview, Homer and Seward will take the ferry to Cordova today, while Nikiski, thanks to diligent fundraising, will be flying in today.

In the six-team NLC tourney, SoHi will be the No. 2 seed while the Kards will be No. 6.

Soldotna finished 9-1 in the league, but lost the coin flip to Palmer and settled for the No. 2 seed.

“It’s not a big deal at all,” SoHi coach Bruce King said. “We have to beat a couple of teams to get to state either way.”

The top three teams at the double-elimination tournament get state bids. SoHi’s last state berth was in 2009, while Kenai last went in 2005.

SoHi opens up play today with an 8 p.m. game against the Colony-Kenai winner. Soldotna beat both twice in conference play.

King said his team is playing well heading into the tournament. The Stars only dropped one set in winning four matches last week.

None of the current members played a role on the 2009 state team, but King does not think lack of experience will play a factor.

“This group of seniors has state tournament experience in basketball and soccer,” King said. “I also think playing the big tournaments in Anchorage helps.”

King said senior middle Kaillee Skjold is the best player in the conference. He said it will be important for players like Natalie Kress, Kaycee Munn and Julie Litchfield to pass well out of the back row in order to get SoHi’s offense humming.

“Heath McLeod, our assistant, has done a fantastic job of running certain parts of our offense,” King said.

Kenai Central will look to overcome an 0-10 record in the league at the tournament.

Tracie Beck said all along it was her goal for her team to be playing its best at the end of the season. Two recent wins over Homer and Houston indicate the Kards are peaking.

“The same girls that walked into the gym the first day of practice compared to now is a huge level of growth,” Beck said. “We’ve had to rewrite goals throughout the season because we’ve reached them.”

The coach said senior libero Cassie Ross has improved a lot this year, along with seniors Addison Cheek and Sarah Rawson. Justice English has grown into a solid setter, while middle blocker Kiana Harding will be important in battling Colony’s height.

The eight-team Southcentral Conference tourney will place an emphasis on endurance. A tourney schedule that normally takes place over three days has been condensed into two days.

The top three teams make state. The easiest path is to take one of two spots in the title game by winning twice Friday.

Those losing Friday’s first match will have to win three times Saturday to earn third and make state. The semifinal losers Friday will have to win twice on Saturday to make state.

Nikiski and Skyview both led the Southern Division with 8-2 records, but Nikiski won the coin toss to take the top seed.

The Bulldogs, who last went to state in 2007, play Houston on Friday at 3 p.m. Nikiski beat Houston twice this year.

By getting the No. 1 seed, the Bulldogs don’t have to face Grace Christian (10-0 in the league) to make the title game.

But coach Stacey Segura is making sure her team knows there are no easy paths to state.

“One thing that I emphasized with the girls is that when we get to this tournament, it’s going to be a different game,” she said. “The team we saw in Houston will be completely different than the team we played at the beginning of the year.

“Just because we’re going in first doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed a spot at state.”

The Bulldogs will have steady setter Rachel Thompson leading the team. Bailey Buchholz supplies hitting and defense, while Taylor Calderwood and Sienna Wallis are solid hitters.

“We’re going to need everyone,” Segura said. “Nobody is more important than anybody else.”

By losing the coin flip, Skyview must face tournament host Cordova on Friday at 1 p.m. Coach Sheila Kupferschmid is assuming the match will be in front of a boisterous crowd that includes the student body.

“That’s part of the excitement of the tournament,” Kupferschmid said. “I hope my kids will be prepared and ready to go.”

Skyview, seeking its first state berth since 2008, swept Cordova twice this year at Skyview.

“I expect a different Cordova team due to home-court advantage,” Kupferschmid said.

As for a potential semifinal matchup with Grace, Kupferschmid said her team hasn’t seen the Grizzlies since the first match of the season, when Skyview fell 3-1.

She said seniors Holly Ramsell and Marlee Cunningham will lead the tourney effort, bolstered by juniors Sam Reynolds, Casey Neill and Cheyanne Laber. Sophomore setter Hayley Ramsell will run the attack.

Seward, which opens with a match at 9 a.m. on Friday against Anchorage Christian Schools, will be looking for its third-straight trip to state.

The Seahawks, who lost to potential semifinal opponent Nikiski in five games on Friday, lost to ACS in five earlier this year.

Seward coach Carri Fisher has three starters — Ashley VonBorstel, Gretchen Lindquist and Tessa Adelmann — back from last year’s state squad. Brianna Honebein and Ashley Whiteshield also must step up for a return trip to state.

“We feel good,” Fisher said. “If we go out there and work as a team we’ll be just fine.”

Homer goes into its 11 a.m. Friday match with Grace with a 1-9 league record. The Mariners lost to the Grizzlies in league play, but actually split with Grace in pool play at the Grace tournament.

“We’ve been in close matches all season,” Trowbridge said. “We’re still working on the mental confidence it takes to win a match.

“That’s something we’ve had to work on all season. I didn’t anticipate it being the mental hurdle it has been.”

Homer has been led by setter Caroline DeCreeft, while other leadership will come from Cayenna Anderson. Middle blocker Haley Oliver also has been coming on lately.

“I feel we have as good of a chance at the third place slot as most of the other teams,” Trowbridge said. “It’s going to be a great tournament. I expect a lot of matches to be really close and go to five games.”

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