Volleyball teams looking to have their weaknesses pointed out, and exploited, could have found no better place to be Friday and Saturday than the Chugiak Invitational.
With five big schools from Anchorage, including defending state champion Service, and Nikiski in attendance, the players and the coaches had the tools necessary to let teams know what they must work on before opening up region play.
"When you play the big schools, every weakness you have is exploited," Nikiski coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen said after her team finished fifth out of six teams at the invitational. "Those teams have the knowledge and experience to take advantage of weak spots.
"Some of the 3A schools we play can't do that."
In pool play Friday and Saturday, the Bulldogs beat Dimond but lost to East, Bartlett, Service and Chugiak. Then on Saturday, Nikiski topped Bartlett 15-9, 15-6 and 15-9 for fifth place.
Service downed East for the tournament title.
"I was pleased with our team, especially considering we were playing the Anchorage schools," Hobart-Verkuilen said. "Nobody blew us out. The scores were close. They could have went either way."
Senior Laura Berdahl and junior April Lofstedt were named to the all-tournament team for the Bulldogs, but Hobart-Verkuilen thought all of her seniors had good tournaments. Those seniors are Laura-Beth Covich, Ashlee Gillaspie and Jessica Arness.
"I know we're capable of playing a lot better," said Hobart-Verkuilen. "We have to toughen up mentally and work harder on defense.
"We hit as hard as anyone, though. We know that after this weekend."
HEAD:Nikiski fifth at Chugiak Invitational
BYLINE1:By JEFF HELMINIAK
If the observations of a few coaches this weekend at the Valley Jamboree are any indication, things figure to get a little tighter this year in Region III/4A volleyball.
In the past, teams from the region's Northern Division have usually had the clear upper hand, as they did last year when Matanuska-Susitna valleys schools Colony, Palmer and Wasilla made a clean sweep of the region's state berths.
But at the Valley Jamboree Friday and Saturday at Colony High School, a few peninsula coaches said they could see the gap narrowing.
"More than ever, it seems like our region is really tight," Kenai coach Vanessa Gabel said. "Colony and Palmer aren't as strong, and Wasilla's really strong for them, but the peninsula schools seem to be pretty tight in there, too."
Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid agreed.
"I think the region is more balanced this year," she said. "Last year the Valley schools were the powerhouses, although Soldotna was competitive.
"This year, I think anybody's beatable."
It's always tough to tell exactly how teams will stack up from a jamboree because the events are geared toward giving teams playing time, not determining a champion.
For instance, at the Valley Jamboree a match could be cut short in mid-game if time ran out.
But after two sessions of pool play, the teams rising to the top were Soldotna, Colony, Palmer and Wasilla. Wasilla beat Colony and Palmer beat Soldotna, but no championship match was played.
"What was great about it was we got to play lots of volleyball," SoHi coach Ron Becker said. "We played 80 minutes on Friday, 40 minutes on Saturday morning and 90 more minutes in the afternoon."
Becker said the Stars got solid play from a number of people, including seniors Gretta Besse, Toni Gilbert and Danielle Kerrone, juniors Tabitha Strauss and Jenna Pitts and sophomores Hillary Zobeck, Rachel Besse, Lauren Christensen, Ashley Duwe and Kathryn Becker.
"I was excited by our floor defense," coach Becker said. "We moved around a little bit."
Both Skyview and Kenai finished second in their pools on Saturday, so they played Saturday afternoon and split a pair of games to 21. Gabel said both teams finished somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Skyview, which was 8-6 overall, was pleased to see that sophomore Christina Colvin will be able to hold down the setter's position this year.
"I think Christina held her composure very well," Kupferschmid said. "She's a sophomore learning the ins and outs of the game.
"She was placing the ball well for hits and it was just the preseason."
Seniors Amanda Bauer and Beth Massey, Skyview's top hitters, benefited from Colvin's sets. Kupferschmid also pointed to the emergence of junior Angel Hollers as a good sign.
"I called her a gamer," Kupferschmid said. "She rises to levels higher than what she does in practice. Going into this, she wasn't a starter but she probably earned herself a starting role."
Kenai has had a tradition of strong serving, and Friday and Saturday were no exception. Senior Natalie Mills totaled 10 aces, while senior Catie Baldwin had nine, junior Amy Fischer had five and junior Erica Shinn had five.
In the kills department, Shinn led the Kardinals with 35, followed closely by Baldwin with 34. Holly McCune added 14, while Shamra Bauder had 13.
Shinn also led Kenai in blocks, with 15, while Kirsten Ehrhardt added seven blocks.
Junior Jamie Montgomery did the setting for Kenai. Gabel also called her a "vacuum" on defense.
Homer coach Beth Trowbridge also said her team finished in the middle of the pack at the jamboree.
Middle hitter Joy Epley paced the Mariners attack with 28 kills and 11 solo blocks for the weekend. Also for Homer, Alex Drathman had 25 assists and eight aces serving.
Trowbridge also liked the contribution from Lindsay Babcock.
"She played a terrific defensive game," the coach said. "She had over 40 digs for the weekend. She was just everywhere.
"She also had 12 aces."
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