Last year, the Northern Lights Conference volleyball tournament was dominated by Northern Division teams Kodiak, Colony, Palmer and Wasilla.
Palmer defeated Colony in the championship match, while Wasilla topped Kodiak in the third-place match.
The domination of the Northern Division was foreshadowed by a regular season in which no Northern Division team lost a match to Southern Division schools Homer, Soldotna, Kenai and Skyview.
This year, if the regular season is again a good indication, Southern Division schools should have a far better chance of securing a top-three finish and a state berth when the tournament begins today at Homer High School.
Last weekend was a good indication of how competitive the Southern Division is with the Northern Division this year. Skyview defeated Kodiak and Wasilla, Kenai beat Palmer, Soldotna lost to Palmer in five games and Homer picked up a sweep over Kodiak.
The one Northern Division school the Southern Division has not been able to touch is Colony, which opens with a game against tournament host Homer at 7 p.m.
"Colony may be heads above the rest," Homer coach Beth Trowbridge said. "They've got a lot of experienced players. They did well last year and they didn't lose any players.
"After that, I feel like it's anybody's tournament."
Trowbridge is not willing to give the Knights a free pass into the second round, however. The Mariners are on their home floor and, as a young squad, have done plenty of improving this season.
"We played Colony a couple of weeks ago and lost to them in three, but we played really great defense against them," Trowbridge said. "We had a lot of comments that, that was some of the best defense that was played against Colony."
Trowbridge said Brittney VanSandt and Bailey Lowney give Homer a great one-two punch on defense. She said the challenge will be taking those digs and turning them into kills.
Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid also said Colony has been the best team in the conference this year. That's why she's glad the Knights are on the other side of the bracket. The Panthers open with a 3 p.m. match against Palmer. Skyview, the top seed from the Southern Division, defeated Palmer in four games earlier in the year.
Kupferschmid said Amber Kunz and Anna Bonebrake will be important because they are the only ones on the squad with region tournament experience.
"I think we're peaking at the right time," Kupferschmid said.
Soldotna coach Pako Whannell also said her team has been playing well lately. Like Skyview, Soldotna is on the other side of the bracket from Colony.
The Stars, the No. 3 seed from the Southern Division, play Wasilla at 1 p.m. today. Wasilla defeated Soldotna in four games earlier this year.
Whannell said taking that one game helps heading into the tournament.
"We can do it. The girls know they can do it," Whannell said. "The mental game is such a big part of volleyball. It will help us going into the match knowing that Wasilla is a beatable team."
Finally, Kenai, the No. 2 seed in the Southern Division, opens up tournament play with a 3 p.m. match against Kodiak.
The Kardinals also are playing good ball heading into the tournament. Kenai beat Palmer in five games last weekend, then took a game off Colony before falling to the Knights.
Kodiak, on the other hand, was swept by both Skyview and Homer last weekend.
Kupferschmid said it would be dangerous overlook the Bears, however.
"They're a better team than what they displayed in those last two matches," Kupferschmid said. "Kodiak is very good."
Northern Lights Conference Tournament at Homer High School
Game 1 Wasilla vs. Soldotna, 1 p.m.
Game 2 Palmer vs. Skyview, 3 p.m.
Game 3 Kodiak vs. Kenai, 5 p.m.
Game 4 Homer vs. Colony, 7 p.m.
Game 5 Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 6 Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 3 p.m.
Game 7 Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 8 Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 9 Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 loser, 9 a.m.
Game 10 Game 5 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 11 a.m.
Third-place game Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 3 p.m.
Championship game Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 5:30 p.m.
Southcentral Conference Tournament
at Houston high school
Nikiski, Grace get byes
Game 1 Heritage vs. ACS, 2 p.m.
Game 2 Seward vs. Houston, 4 p.m.
Game 3 Nikiski vs. Game 1 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 4 Grace vs. Game 2 winner, 8 p.m.
Game 5 Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 11 a.m.
Game 6 Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 9 a.m.
Third-place game Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 3 p.m.
Championship game Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
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