Skyview enters Southcentral Conference tourney undefeated

Saturday, Skyview’s volleyball team finished the regular season 17-0.

Today, the Panthers start the Southcentral Conference tournament in Seward 0-0. Lose twice in the tournament, and just like the other seven teams present, the Panthers’ season is over.

“Everything starts over,” Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. “I told the kids to take the season in phases.

“We’ve achieved a couple of our goals already for the season, but the ultimate goal is still before them.”

Skyview, the defending tourney champ and top seed from the Southern Division, starts its defense at 1 p.m. today vs. Cordova, No. 4 from the north. The Panthers beat the Wolverines twice this season. The winner of that match plays the Anchorage Christian Schools-Nikiski winner at 5 p.m. in the semis.

Kupferschmid has five state appearances since taking over at Skyview in 1999, but she also knows going undefeated in the regular season means little in the postseason.

The Panthers were undefeated in 2006, but didn’t make state in a wild Northern Lights Conference tournament in Kodiak.

“I look at how practice goes the week before that region tournament,” Kupferschmid said. “Are they getting it done in practice? The kids have had a good week of practice. They are excited and confident.”

Kupferschmid has the luxury of returning five starters from last season’s title team. The returners are seniors Cat Schoessler, Sam Reynolds, Casey Neill and Cheyanne Laber.

Junior Hayley Ramsell also returns. Ramsell was the setter last season, but Emily DiPaolo has set to allow Ramsell to be the opposite hitter this season.

All the Skyview players are in the school’s strength training program. Kupferschmid told her players to work hard in that program for this very moment — the school’s last conference volleyball tournament.

“Typically, the team that attacks the best wins,” Kupferschmid said. “The attack shows who is controlling the ball, and right now I think an area we’re pretty dominant in is our attack.”

Although Skyview is unbeaten, the Panthers are not unbeatable. Nikiski showed that Friday, when the Bulldogs took the Panthers to five games before losing.

Nikiski and Skyview met in last season’s tourney title tilt, but instead of returning five starters this year, the Bulldogs lost five starters.

Southern Division No. 3 Nikiski finished 4-6 in the conference, including a loss to ACS, No. 2 from the north. The two play at 9 a.m. today. After beating Houston and Homer, and battling Skyview, to end the season, Bulldogs coach Stacey Segura said her team is where it needs to be.

“We were really good last year, and a lot of girls were still stuck on what was going on last year,” Segura said of the first part of the season. “They had to move on to this year. Once they did, they started building confidence in each other.”

Segura said libero Laura Hufford keys the defense, while setter Rachel Thompson keys the offense. Other key players for the tournament will be middle hitter Jodi Cook and outside hitters Katie Costello and Rebekah Krogseng.

With teams like ACS, No. 2 from the north, and Skyview in their bracket, Segura said the Bulldogs will have to pass well on defense to transition to offense.

“We have to be effective on offense,” she said. “The key against those teams is to throw off their defense so they can’t run their offense. Both of those teams have a strong offense.”

The other side of the bracket has Houston, No. 3 from the north, playing Seward, No. 2 from the south, at 3 p.m., and Grace Christian, No. 1 from the north, facing off with Homer, No. 4 from the south, at 11 a.m. The winners of those two matches meet at 7 p.m. in the semis.

The Seahawks, who finished 5-5 in the league, swept the Hawks earlier this season.

Seward coach Carri Fisher likes the side of the bracket in which her team landed. She likes being on her home floor even more.

“It’s nice to be able to sleep in our own bed and to have that home crowd cheering us on,” she said.

She said the Seahawks will be led by seniors Ashley Whiteshield and Ashley VonBorstel, and juniors Kiana Clemens, Paige Carter and Maria Jackson.

Like Segura, Fisher said defense and passing will be key to slowing down the attacks of the likes of Skyview, Grace and ACS.

“If we play really hard, scrappy, tough defense, we can do anything,” Fisher said.

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