Coming off their first state berth qualification in four years, the Skyview Panthers volleyball team is gearing up for a state championship run this weekend at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla.
Skyview qualified for its first state berth since 2008 by defeating Anchorage’s Grace Christian in the Southcentral Conference semifinal round last Friday, which was won in a 3-1 decision (25-21, 26-28, 25-17, 25-17). Saturday, Skyview swept Nikiski in the SSC championship match (25-21, 25-19, 25-9), which means the Panthers are the No. 1 seed from the conference going into the state tournament.
Skyview head coach Sheila Kupferschmid said the team took a rest day on Monday, which will hopefully aid them in preparation for the tournament.
“Last weekend, we took Cordova in three games, Grace in four, and Nikiski in three,” Kupferschmid said. “Every team has a weakness. Every team is concerned with passing, and whether they can receive well.”
All season long, the Panthers have relied on a powerful offense led by Marlee Cunningham, Holly Ramsell, Cheyanne Laber and Sam Reynolds. That line, coupled with a defense that includes Hayley Ramsell and libero Casey Neill, has led to a 13-4 season record, including last week’s region championship games.
“We have a really tall front line and our hitting is really good, so we have a lot of big hitters this year,” Cunningham explained. “I feel like we’ve prepared for this all season, and we’re peaking at the right point. We all came together at the region tournament and all fought together. We didn’t break down like some teams do, we kept fighting.”
Teammate Holly Ramsell agrees, adding that the intensity that Skyview plays at is what buoys the team.
“Some teams peak at the wrong time, they get good in the middle of the season, but they slowly go down,” Ramsell said. “I think we’re peaking and we’re still right there.
“When we have our adrenaline and energy up, that is our strong point.”
If Skyview wishes to win a 3A state championship, it will be vitally important to get off to a good start by winning the Panthers’ first game, scheduled for today at 3:15 p.m. against Grace, the third seed in the Southcentral Conference.
If the Panthers win that game, they will continue on to the quarterfinal match against the winner of the Barrow-Valdez match. If not, they will be relegated to the “losers” bracket, where they will still have a shot at the state championship game, but will need to win an extra two games just to make it to the title game, which is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m.
“This first match is big,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s going to set the tone, it is a long road back for the loser, but for the winner, it looks doable. (If we win) I know that we play again Thursday evening, but I would almost rather have that than have the kids play at 10 in the morning and come back in the night.
“It just seems that they have to refocus and the adrenaline needs to be there, and if we come off a big win it’s to the team’s advantage to play again right away.”
So what does Skyview need to do to topple the Grizzlies in the first round?
“They played club most of their volleyball career, and so did we, but they’ve done it forever and we just need to learn to fight back against it,” Ramsell said.
“We got to look at the things that work well for us and do them again,” Cunningham added. “There’s specific things about their team that our coach has pointed out and we try to attack those things.”
Kupferschmid said that one advantage that Skyview might have over many of the state teams is that the Panthers are used to traveling and playing on the road.
“Homer and us, and Seward and Nikiski, all these teams are used to traveling,” Kupferschmid said. “Anchorage teams are not used to travel, they are not used to staying on the floor. Grace might be in their beds, because they’re close enough.”
Even as they enter the tournament as the top seed from the Southcentral Conference, Kupferschmid is not letting the glory get to her players.
“Definitely, in everyone’s eyes, they’d say that Skyview is the underdog, because we are,” she said. “Grace is an Anchorage school, one that can choose their athletes, so they’re getting a variety of different athletes, and they have a tremendous amount of tradition at the 3A level. We’re just walking into this region, so we’re the underdog.”