Skyview High School saw one of its more successful programs come to an end Saturday at Chugiak High School, as the Panthers volleyball team ended their season with a 3-1 loss to Mt. Edgecumbe at the Alaska School Activities Association State 3A tournament.
However, the prominent emotion surrounding the team for the duration of the weekend was pride. The Panthers’ season ended with a 23-3 record, which was 17-0 for the regular season.
Not only that, but those regular season victories also included matches over Mt. Edgecumbe and Grace Christian — the same two teams that have battled for the 3A state championship for each of the past four years. Grace’s 3-0 win over Mt. Edgecumbe on Saturday night put the two schools on even footing over that time span with two titles each.
“This group, you may never see it again, to be in the semis and have an opportunity to be in the finals,” said Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid. “But I know they’re proud, and I’m proud of them. They showed that Skyview spirit, hanging tough like they did in this match.
“I told them, they were my light in this fall. My family’s light. They came together and it was a lot of fun coaching them.”
One year ago, coach Kupferschmid was faced with the prospect of losing a few starting seniors after a fourth-place result at the state tournament. Like any coach, she still held hopes that they could return to the state tournament in 2013 with a team just as strong as the 2012 one was, but on paper, it looked less than ideal.
“I would never have thought we’d be 23-3,” Kupferschmid said. “We had some holes to fill this fall, and I didn’t know if I had the personnel to do it. But that’s where these kids stepped up, and they made it happen with their work in practice, their commitment, and some went to camp and developed. “
For players such as libero Casey Neill, confidence and a positive attitude is what helped carry the team this weekend. Even when Skyview found itself in a hole, Neill continued to flash a smile on the court.
“She’s a bright spot for us,” Kupferschmid said. “She made our transition happen, with her passing. I told the kids, I’m so proud of you guys, and they know it in their hearts. To end up 23-3, just ... wow.”
When a school is preparing to shut down and final celebrations are commencing, every sports program is gunning for one last shot at a state championship bid. But the Skyview volleyball team — with respect to the school’s other sports programs — seemed the likeliest to be that team that finishes its school history with a championship.
As the season progressed, and Skyview captured wins over Grace, Anchorage Christian Schools and Mt. Edgecumbe, that vision only become clearer.
But, predictably, those opponents used what they learned about the Panthers and put together a lineup that was used to defeat Skyview at both the Southcentral Conference and the state tournaments.
“We’ve focused on Skyview specifically actually, because we know they’re a really good team,” said Grace coach Valerie Steele after her team beat Skyview on Thursday evening.
So now, the Skyview volleyball era has ended. No state titles were reached, although the 2001 squad came the closest, losing to Wasilla in the finals that season.
Four seniors will be graduating from this unit — Sam Reynolds, Cheyanne Laber, Cat Schoessler and Neill — but the returning players all have a choice of where to attend high school in the fall of 2014. Most of them will likely be joining the Soldotna Stars.
As for Kupferschmid, she said her plans are still up in the air. It’s very possible that she will still be around the Kenai Peninsula volleyball scene for some time, but never again as a Skyview coach, as she has been since 1999.
“I think with this group, to come over as they did ... I had three eighth-grade kids come over to Skyview, and out of all those other kids, they went to SoHi,” Kupferschmid said. “Kids like Emily (DiPaolo), she didn’t play junior high ball. She came in as a freshman. She’s still a junior, so it took a couple years, but wow, she did a great job too.”
Kupferschmid added that her players can rest easy knowing that they were championship material, and made that clear to them after Saturday’s last game.
“There’s a lot of tears,” Kupferschmid said on Saturday. “So there’s a lot of disappointment, teams don’t get this opportunity often, I told them to make the most of this opportunity. They just knew they were that close to get into the championship game, and they knew they were good enough.”