The 2000 National Champion Team Alaska Coed Volleyball Team, after failing to defend their championship last year, regained their title at the eight-day event held in Dallas, Texas last month. After a grueling schedule of seven matches in one day, nearly 14 hours of Volleyball, Team Alaska emerged with the gold. "
In Reverse tourney, we had to win our way out of the losers bracket. In the finals we faced a team that had beat us twice already in earlier rounds. We had to come back and beat them twice that evening to knock them out of first. We were at the gym from 7:45am until 10:30pm, playing ball some 9 hours that day. My hamstring muscles would still let me jump in the final game, but my quads were gone and I went to the floor after each jump," said Team Alaska member Vanessa Gabel.
"Our women really carried us, and Jason did a phenomenal job in the back row. We couldn't have come away with the victory without those people," added Mel Gabel, Vanessa's husband and teammate, who works on the North Slope. Vanessa, Mel, and Jason Diorec, a Kenai Fire Fighter, all met in college and have been playing together for the last eleven years. "We love the game, love the sport in it, and we just don't get a chance to play at that level in-state," said Gabel.
Three years ago, following their quest for a high level of competition the Gabel's joined Team Alaska claiming the national title for the first time. Jason Diorec, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, grew up around volleyball, but never grew very tall, "I think I'm a lot taller than they say I am, that's the key. I think I'm over 6 feet tall, but really, it's a lot of working out and a lot of technique," laughed Diorec, who plans to return with Team Alaska next year to defend their title. Mel Gabel was named the Male MVP for the tournament, and Tonya Hatfield, of Anchorage, the Female MVP.
Team Alaska was made up of players from the Peninsula, Anchorage, and a couple of women from the lower 48. "The teams that we compete against play together year round in leagues. We get together the night before we start playing, have one practice, and then we play," explained Vanessa. Interest in high-level volleyball competition however, is growing in the state with the success of Team Alaska. Anyone wanting to try out for next year's team can contact Jason Diorec at the Kenai Fire Department, or Vanessa Gabel, at Healthy Changes in Soldotna.
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