The Skyview volleyball squad ended Thursday with a tough loss against Grace Christian, but they still have a second chance Friday to win an Alaska Schools Activities Association Class 3A championship. That’s what this tournament is geared toward.
The Panthers swept Nome in straight sets earlier Thursday, but dropped a 3-1 match to Grace in the evening at Chugiak High School, placing the Panthers in the loser’s bracket. The Grizzlies won with scores of 25-22, 25-15, 22-25 and 25-21.
Skyview will face the winner of the Barrow vs. Anchorage Christian Schools match at 3 p.m Friday. Barrow forfeited its first-round match with Mt. Edgecumbe due to inclement weather keeping them from making the trip down south on Thursday.
Because it’s a double-elimination bracket, Skyview is still alive in the tournament, but it will require three wins to reach Saturday’s championship game.
“We’re well and alive,” Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. “I believe in my Skyview kids and they’re tough players when they know this is the last match. They’ll come out fighting and prepared, and hopefully playing better defense.”
In the game against Grace, the Panthers’ defense suffered at the powerful hands of Grace senior Heather Green, who converted 27 kills (and 22 digs) on Skyview. Senior setter Felicity Roe provided many of those kill opportunities with 43 assists.
“This was a really big match for us,” said Grace coach Valerie Steele. “We’ve focused on Skyview specifically actually, because we know they’re a really good team.”
With other hitting phenoms such as junior Kinley Hickok and sophomore Krista Green playing backup for Heather, the Grace front line proved to be the difference over Skyview’s determination.
“(Heather Green) is a phenomenal hitter, and she was the difference maker for them,” Kupferschmid said.
Senior outside Sam Reynolds led Skyview with five kills and seven service points, senior middle Cheyanne Laber had six kills and five service points, and junior setter Emily DiPaolo added 15 assists. Junior Hayley Ramsell also added seven service points and two kills, senior Cat Schoessler had two kills and two service points, and sophomore Jaci Rouse notched three kills.
In the first game, Skyview put up a 10-2 point streak midway through that left them with a 22-18 lead. However, Grace’s hitting began to unveil itself, leading to seven straight points and the win.
The second game was even worse for Skyview, as Grace’s Natalie Moore capped a strong finish with two kills and a serving ace, giving the Grizzlies a convincing win.
But, just like their game with Nikiski two weeks ago, Kupferschmid pulled her players outside the gym to have a quick pep talk, and the words seemed to work.
“I just think they probably settled down a little bit,” Kupferschmid said. “It was a lot of nerves, and big competition.”
In game three, Skyview finally found a good groove and proved that it meant business.
The difference proved to be hitting. With the bulk of the attacks now coming from such players as Reynolds, Laber and Schoessler, it seemed Skyview could do no wrong. Reynolds also found success with her serve, starting the set with a few big service points.
It started with a quick 5-0 lead, which eventually ballooned to 16-8, and then match point at 24-16.
Although they ended with a limp — giving up six successive points before finally hitting a game-winner — Skyview had the momentum, even with a 2-1 match deficit. It also translated to an 8-2 start in the fourth game for Skyview,
However, once again, mistakes began to show themselves, and Grace crept back into the game. The Grizzlies ran off a 9-1 point streak that proved to be the buffer they needed to win.
“We didn’t grab the momentum right away, and I believe we’re just as good a team as Grace, and I’d like the opportunity to play them again,” Kupferschmid said. “I think my kids still have a lot of fight in them, because obviously this wasn’t our best match. We just need to regroup and come back tomorrow at three.”
Earlier in the day, Skyview swept Nome in three games, which advanced them to Thursday evening’s quarterfinal bout. The scores against Nome were 25-20, 25-17 and 25-19.
Against the Nanooks, Kupferschmid said there were a lot of differences her squad was forced to adapt to, such as the size of the courts at Chugiak, especially since the gym was holding two separate matches at once. The bleachers were also pulled out, further diminishing the space.
“The environment, the atmosphere is different,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s like tournament play with different courts, and they’ve got to adjust to that. With the bleachers up close, it makes it look like it’s a shorter court than it is.
“The kids also struggled to hear, but it’s just something that they’ll have to adjust to.”
Additionally, the small size of the Nome squad encouraged the Nanooks to use only one blocker at the net, rather than two, so knocking the ball to the floor provided more of a challenge than before.
“We don’t see a lot of the single blocks, because they’re a smaller school, so that’s another thing we had to get used to,” Kupferschmid said.
Junior Emily DiPaolo provided Skyview’s top hitters with well-orchestrated setups against Nome, getting 19 assists and five digs. Sam Reynolds had 10 kills and nine digs, Cheyanne Laber notched 10 kills and three blocks, and Hayley Ramsell had six kills and five digs. Cat Schoessler got two digs and two kills, and Casey Neill added 11 digs.
“I thought our receive was pretty good,” Kupferschmid said. “Casey Neill had a very good match. I changed her from a jump-serve back down to a floor-serve. Her timing didn’t seem like it was there, so she’s getting back into the groove.”
If Skyview was worried about closing out games against stiff competition, those fears were subdued, as the Panthers finished all three games against Nome at match point without giving up any extra points.
In the first set, Laber provided the finishing touch with consecutive point-winning shots that had the Nanooks scrambling.
Nome found an early 6-4 lead in game two, but Skyview was able to overcome that by stringing together points with superb serving. After four unanswered points left Nome trailing 19-12, Skyview finished off the set with consecutive points once again.
But a 2-0 match lead can be dangerous, and Kupferschmid was focused on keeping her players on guard to avoid a letdown.
A close contest in the third game was finally blown wide open midway through when Laber began to pile up kill points, with Reynolds adding a clean service game from behind.
Nome’s Adelaine Ahmasuk, Alyssa Bushey and Ariana Horner provided the biggest threats to Skyview, as the two latter players are both 5-foot-10.
“Nome played better this match than the first time we saw them,” Kupferschmid said. “It’s nice to get the first one over and keep moving forward.”