As the last standing Kenai Peninsula team in the ASAA Class 3A State Volleyball tournament, Skyview needed to win twice on Saturday just to qualify for the state championship, with Monroe Catholic and Grace Christian standing in the way.
It ended early Saturday for the Panthers, who lost 3-1 against the Monroe Rams at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla and were ousted from the tournament, with game scores of 25-23, 21-25, 25-20 and 26-24.
The loss leaves Skyview with a total season record of 15-6, including the region and state tournaments. Skyview recorded a 10-4 regular season mark, but went 2-2 at state.
Skyview head coach Sheila Kupferschmid said she harbors no regrets.
“I almost had all the pieces together for this team, and these seniors have put together a lot of time, with the Midnight Sun tournament, summer ball, a lot of strength training,” Kupferschmid said. “They put the time in, I’m happy for the team, we had a fantastic year, and regions was fantastic, and fourth in state is very respectable.”
Senior Marlee Cunningham and junior Cheyanne Laber were once again at the peak of their game, recording 16 kills and 14 kills, respectively. Additionally, Cunningham had five serve aces.
On defense, junior libero Casey Neill provided 24 digs, Sam Reynolds hit 17 assists and 14 digs, and sophomore setter Hayley Ramsell had 27 assists, 10 digs and six kills — all while she was beleaguered with flu symptoms, according to Kupferschmid.
“That does not help with chemistry, but she knew she had to be on it, so she gutted it out and did good,” Kupferschmid said. “I’m proud of Hayley for sticking with it.”
Right from the start, Skyview found itself in a 1-0 hole, losing a 23-21 lead late in the first game to the Rams, who were able to score four straight points to win, capped by a Marrisa King shot. King ended with 19 kills.
The second game brought light to Skyview’s hopes, as the Panthers battled it out with Monroe to close on a 5-0 winning streak, helped by some superb serving from Cunningham.
“Basically, I told my girls that their serve-receive has to improve,” Monroe coach Michael Lessley said. “Skyview is a very good serving team, and without that, it’s up to your setters, and you’re not going to do anything. Our blocking was good, Skyview began tipping a little more, and these girls have the understanding that if we get a tip or a free ball, we want to attack every time. Our transitions worked very well.”
A six-point run from Monroe was the determining factor early in the third game, which led to a 2-1 game lead and the deciding set for Monroe.
After an even start to the fourth game, Monroe pushed the lead out with several powerful kills from King, and before too long, Skyview was faced with a daunting 16-10 deficit. Despite the odds, the Panthers began to push back with a thrilling 11-1 run that gave them a lead of 21-17, and within sight of a win.
“We were pushing to go five games with them, and when you go five, anything can happen,” Kupferschmid said. “They’re disappointed but they’re also proud of themselves for what they did for Skyview.”
As the game neared its end, Cheyanne Laber knocked a kill down that set Skyview up for match point, but after an out-of-bounds call and a block from Monroe’s King and Bridget Everette, it was the Rams ending with the glory.
“The kids are very disappointed,” Kupferschmid said. “They believed and I believed that we could beat Monroe. We made some crucial mistakes at the end of that fourth set that cost us. We had the momentum, and whatever the mistake was, it cost us.”
Kupferschmid praised Holly Ramsell for keeping the game in check with her serving, and complimented Monroe for having an athletic, well-coached team. Ramsell had 10 kills, three serve aces and six digs.
“I thought that we missed more receives than we typically do,” she said. “They had one tough server that we couldn’t contain very well, and they got on some long runs. We just couldn’t stop them at the end there.”
Along with King, Monroe was led by Delainey Stokes with 17 kills, Emily Pfister with nine kills and Andi Clark providing 17 assists.
As far as preparing for the offseason, Skyview will be splitting, with a few key seniors graduating but others staying put.
“We have a nucleus of five, and a lot of those kids were starters,” Kupferschmid said. “There will be some starters coming back, and so that’s something we’ll be able to work on, and those kids have promised they’re going to commit and work hard in the offseason.”