The two teams playing each other in the semifinal round of the Alaska School Activities Association State 3A volleyball championships Saturday both shared a common thread — someone would be bowing out for the final time in school history.
The Skyview Panthers already knew they were playing their final state tournament before the school shuts down after this year, and for the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves, head coach Richard Calkins will be stepping down after this year.
The Braves got the opportunity to send their coach off with one last game, beating the Panthers 3-1 on Saturday at Chugiak High School, with game scores of 25-21, 25-21, 20-25 and 25-20.
The victory advanced Mt. Edgecumbe to the championship match against Grace Christian — for a fourth straight year — but the Braves were beaten by the Grizzlies in three games.
The loss ends an illustrious era of Skyview volleyball, particularly with Sheila Kupferschmid as head coach. The team officially captured third-place honors in the tournament, which is only eclipsed by the runner-up finish by the Panthers in the Class 4A tourney in 2001.
“We were right in there,” Kupferschmid said. “I’m not going to say it was one area or anything. I would’ve liked to see them pick up (Taryn White’s) hits better. She turns it on at times and then kind of goes in a lull.”
Mt. Edgecumbe junior White racked up 27 kills to lead the Braves, but she wasn’t the only one knocking balls to the floor. Teammates Eden Cronk, Kathy Holly and 6-footer Angelique Zeller all provided additional power against a normally stout Skyview defensive unit.
“I thought we did a nice job of moving our serves around,” Calkins said. “Skyview’s a great team, they came down and played us, and had battles with them the whole time, and we knew if they could pass the ball wherever they wanted to, their big hitters could hit the ball down.”
Calkins ends a 12-year coaching tenure with the Braves, which includes two 3A state titles and four state runner-up finishes, all within the last nine years.
For a Skyview team that went undefeated in the regular season, the loss is a disappointment, but Kupferschmid said if she was told how well her team would do before the season started, she wouldn’t have believed it.
“We’ve beaten both of these teams that are on the championship floor tonight,” Kupferschmid said. “We’ve beat Mt. Edgecumbe twice on their home floor, and we’ve beaten Grace on our home floor. So Skyview volleyball is right up there with the best.”
Senior Cheyanne Laber capped an impressive tournament for herself with 23 kills, 11 digs and four blocks to lead Skyview. Junior Emily DiPaolo provided 23 assists, senior Sam Reynolds had seven kills and 16 digs, and senior libero Casey Neill had 33 digs.
“Casey Neill, again, what an awesome match, and Cheyanne had an awesome game too,” Kupferschmid said. “Those kids were putting it all out. You can’t say enough about them. They played hard.”
Additionally, senior Cat Schoessler contributed 14 digs, sophomore Jaci Rouse added three block kills, and junior Hayley Ramsell got eight kills, seven digs and four block kills.
After beating Hutchison 3-1 on Saturday morning to advance to the loser-out afternoon match with Mt. Edgecumbe, Skyview continued the momentum with a fast start in the first set with the Braves. After streaking out to a 13-8 lead, Skyview looked primed to make a threat for the championship game.
Coach Calkins decided his team needed a time out, and from there, White began to take over on the offensive front. That, coupled with a strong service game from Melinda Merlino, pushed Mt. Edgecumbe to the lead late in the game and a 25-21 win.
In Game 2, it was the Braves that held an early 13-8 lead when Skyview called time out. The Panthers would receive a few crucial points from Laber’s attacks and Reynolds’ service game, leading to a 20-17 lead when Mt. Edgecumbe called for a break.
The quick time out paid dividends when the Braves picked up six straight points, which was part of a final 8-1 run that won them the game, 25-21.
“We started strong and it just goes back to certain rotations we had,” Kupferschmid explained. “Some rotations were stronger than others, and I’m sure that was some of it. We needed to put some kills down and we didn’t.”
The third game provided a last-chance opportunity for Skyview, and the team came up big.
An early 9-1 deficit was erased with a number of crucial kills from Laber. Skyview strung together six unanswered points to close the gap, then later added a 7-1 points run that resulted in a 21-18 lead.
Ramsell and Laber punctuated the ending with two points that capped a 25-20 win, closing the Braves’ match lead to 2-1.
“We grabbed the momentum back in the third (game), and I thought we were going to take the fourth,” Kupferschmid said. “I told the kids, if we took the fourth, we’re going to win that match.”
In Game 4, Skyview struggled to sustain a point streak due to mistakes and dropped balls, but a determined performance saw the squad stay within four points the entire game. Late in the set, Skyview trailed by the slim margin of 20-19, but a crucial point was missed when Skyview took a blunder on a dropped ball.
White ended the match with consecutive kill points that sent the Panthers packing for one last time in their Skyview career.
“It’s that close, and it just depends on who comes through with that particular match,” Kupferschmid said. “Some of it is luck. You get the breaks on the line, or the balls hit the net and drop over, so a lot of that is momentum.”
Calkins mentioned that his team’s strategy was to use its powerful attacks to keep Skyview off balance.
“We were trying to move Taryn around a bit, and make it tougher on them as far as where she was going to be offensively,” Calkins said. “We were telling our girls that if we lose, we’re going to lose swinging.”
Skyview’s day started off with a morning bout with Hutchison. Skyview won 3-1 with scores of 27-25, 19-25, 25-21 and 25-17.
“Individuals came through,” Kupferschmid said. “They stepped up and did their job and their role, and Cheyanne had an outstanding match today. Back on the back line as well as offensively, and her swings were just a difference-maker today.”
Laber contributed 16 kills and six digs for Skyview, while Neill added 18 digs. Reynolds put up 15 digs and nine kills, Schoessler had 11 digs, Ramsell added six blocks and six kills, and DiPaolo provided 29 assists.
“Defensively, that is Hutchison’s bread and butter,” Kupferschmid said. “They are a good ball-control team, and my kids had to step up. They came through and I’m happy for them.”
In the first set against Hutchison, the Panthers nearly wasted a big lead early. The Hawks dug out of a five-point hole to take a 23-20 lead over Skyview with big kill points from junior Lina Heinrichs.
Skyview battled back with four straight points, then finally took the win on a serving ace from DiPaolo.
Hutchison converted a strong start in Game 2 to take the win and knot the match up at a game apiece.
In Game 3, Skyview trailed for much of the contest, but took the lead late with the help of a six-point swing. The win gave Skyview a 2-1 lead, and in the fourth and final set, Skyview rode the momentum of a 10-1 point streak to the easy win, setting the Panthers up with a date against Mt. Edgecumbe.