When a sports team is faced with a do-or-die situation, the cream often rises to the top.
On Friday — in the Alaska School Activities Association State 3A volleyball loser's bracket — Skyview proved that they belong by closing strong in a 3-1 win over conference rivals Anchorage Christian Schools at Chugiak High School.
The Panthers lost a close opening set 26-24, but closed out with three games of 25-21, 25-12 and 25-9.
"I'm just happy to continue on and keep moving up the bracket a bit," said Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid. "I know we're having to come back from the backside, but the kids played well today. They played a very good ACS team, and coming out on top, they were in rhythm and the chemistry was there for them."
Skyview will start Saturday off with a 10 a.m. matchup with Hutchison. The Hawks ousted Monroe in three games on Friday to advance.
If Skyview can win that game, they will advance to a noon game against defending state champs Mt. Edgecumbe, who were ousted in three games by Grace on Friday night.
With one day left in the state tournament, the worst Skyview can place is fourth.
But for now, the Panthers can breathe a little easier.
"It really does," senior Cheyanne Laber said when asked if the win feels like a statement game. "It feels really nice to come back and beat them where it counts, and I love that!"
The victory also helped erase memories of exactly one week earlier, when ACS rallied back to beat Skyview in five sets at the Southcentral Conference tournament in Seward.
"Them beating us at regions really got us going," said senior Cat Schoessler. "We wanted to bring it back and show them we can be a better team and win where it matters."
Laber led Skyview with 10 kills, seven digs and three service aces, while Schoessler provided 12 digs and six kills. Junior Hayley Ramsell hit 15 kills, senior libero Casey Neill had 22 digs, junior Emily DiPaolo provided 29 assists, and senior Sam Reynolds contributed 11 kills, 12 digs and six service aces.
Kupferschmid said she would take a win over ACS at the state tournament over a win at the region tournament any day.
"The kids knew that they did not want to quit and die, and they wanted to keep moving," Kupferschmid said. "They grabbed the momentum and they didn't want to let it go."
Even after a slow start in game one, Skyview continued to work on their passing and service games, which had been lacking in their loss to Grace a night before.
ACS opened up a 21-16 lead in the first game before Skyview battled back with four straight points. From there, Reynolds and Anchorage Christian's Hollie Duncan batted a few points back and forth, leading to a 24-24 tie. ACS ultimately won the final two points with a kill and a unreturned serve to take the set.
In the second set, Laber put the ball on ACS's floor the most with a number of kill points that helped Skyview open up a 9-3 lead early. Midway through the game, ACS strung together six straight points that resulted in the Lions holding a 15-12 lead.
Skyview answered back with six consecutive points of their own, which proved to be the buffer they needed to win.
With the match tied at a game apiece — and a crucial third game approaching — Skyview's offense woke up and ACS never threatened again.
Combined with Laber and Ramsell's quick strikes and DiPaolo's agile setups, the Skyview squad dominated the final two sets, as ACS combined to score only 21 points in both sets.
"The motivation was, if we lost that, we're out completely," Laber said. "We're here to do awesome, and to show what Skyview is. We were an undefeated team, and to bomb at state, we didn't want that."
Schoessler added, "I'm really happy to win 25-9 at state. That makes me feel great!"
Kupferschmid mentioned that if her team can continue with the dominant play that they displayed in the last two sets, there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to play their way back to the championship game, which is set for 3 p.m. against an awaiting Grace team.
"They pushed them on the serve, and because of our serve, (ACS) had to put over a lot of free balls," Kupferschmid said. "That's where our defense took over and there were a lot of free balls, and we kept playing smash volleyball and it worked. They were not in rhythm, so our serving was definitely key to developing that."