Team Alaska, which includes five players from the Kenai Peninsula, won the Open Reverse Coed tournament at the USA Open Volleyball 2000 Championships May 31 through June 3 in Columbus, Ohio.
The peninsula residents on the team were captain Vanessa Gabel of Nikiski, Mel Gabel of Nikiski, Shawnee Wisnewski of Kenai, Pako Whannell of Kenai and Michelle Hanson of Soldotna.
The tournament is nationwide, with all states represented in one or more of the tournament categories. Teams from other countries, such as the Dominican Republic and Brazil, also participated.
There were 588 teams participating in various tournaments within the championships. The various tournaments are divided by sex, skill level and ages. In Team Alaska's "open" tournament, there was no division based on a team's skill.
Reverse coed volleyball is played on a women's height net. Only women can block and spike the ball. If men hit the ball, it has to have an arch, so the men usually set and play defense.
Another nuance of this type of volleyball is that, if there is only one woman in the front row, another can come from the back row to block, but not to hit.
Team Alaska, which also had two players from Anchorage, two from Fairbanks and a coach from Anchorage, never practiced together before the tournament.
The first two days of the tournament were pool play, so the team spent those days getting accustomed to playing reverse coed and to playing with each other. Team Alaska did good enough in pool play to get seeded fourth in the bracket part of the tournament, which is double elimination.
Team Alaska stopped the fifth- and first-seeded teams before losing to second-seeded Hot Shots of New York and dropping into the losers bracket.
The team won a game in the losers bracket to advance to a title tilt against Hot Shots. Because Hot Shots was undefeated, Team Alaska had to beat them twice.
The first match went to Team Alaska in two hard-fought games, setting up a deciding match that would be a match to 25.
The game was close all the way through despite the pounding hits of Fairbanks' Bev Kruppa, who even dislocated the elbow of a men's player when he tried a one-handed dig on one of her blasts.
In the meantime, Kruppa and Wisnewski frustrated Hot Shots with solid blocking.
With the game tied at 24-24, Wisnewski gave Team Alaska match point after a set from Mel Gabel.
On match point, Hot Shots appeared to have the upper hand in a long rally when a well-placed shot forced Team Alaska's setter to dive for a dig.
Anchorage's Jon Ladner, who is a defensive specialist and not a setter, was forced to set the ball in the middle of the court.
Vanessa Gabel made the situation work with a clever tip that landed in the middle of the court and gave Team Alaska the title.
Wisnewski and Ladner made the all-tournament team, while Kruppa was named tournament MVP.
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