Last season, Region III/4A's Southern Division, made up of peninsula schools Homer, Kenai, Soldotna and Skyview, was superior to the region's Northern Division.
Skyview won its first region volleyball tournament championship, while Homer topped Soldotna in the third-place match to earn its first trip to the state tournament in over 10 years.
That performance was a departure from the norm in Region III/4A, where the bigger schools of the Northern Division typically have their way.
This year, with the Region III/4A volleyball tournament set to start today at Colony, the region has been back to normal so far.
In regular season region play, a Southern Division team was unable to post a victory over Northern Division schools Colony, Palmer, Wasilla and Kodiak.
The top three teams at the region tournament go to state, so something is going to have to change if a peninsula team is going to extend its season beyond Saturday.
Here is a closer look at the opening round game for each of the peninsula's schools:
Kenai vs. Wasilla
The Kardinals had a 5-5 record in Region III. This record tied Kenai with Homer for the No. 1 spot in the Southern Division. Kenai then took the Southern Division's No. 1 seed at the tournament by winning a coin toss.
Kenai does not have a tall, dominant player on its roster. The Kardinals win because of chemistry, a balanced attack and the leadership of seniors Ali DeMello and Heather McIntyre.
The Kardinals lost to the Warriors in three straight games in mid-October. The scores were 25-23, 25-23 and 25-16.
Coach Jason Diorec said that match showed the Kardinals can hang with the bigger teams. Diorec said he hopes consistency and a year-long conditioning program can push the Kardinals over the top.
Homer vs. Kodiak
Like Kenai, Homer (5-5 in the region) has played the Northern Division schools close enough to know it can compete.
The Mariners took Colony to five games and also took Kodiak to four games twice.
"When we play to our potential, we have a good chance against the northern teams," coach Beth Trowbridge said.
The coach said having players on her squad who felt the state experience last year should help even more with the confidence needed during tournament time.
Chrissy Eller and Bailey Lowney were starters on last year's state team. Eller is a middle blocker who will be crucial against the talented hitters of the Northern Division. Lowney, a setter and defensive ace, also will be called upon to dig up the blasts Eller does not knock down.
Gretchen Duggar, an outside hitter, also will be relied upon because she is Homer's most consistent hitter.
Palmer vs. Skyview
The Panthers are 1-9 in the region this year. That earns them a No. 3 seed from the Southern Division.
Skyview is looking to keep a string of three straight state appearances going.
Senior Amanda Fay has been on all three of those state teams, while senior Lindsay Gephardt has been on two of those state teams. Their leadership will be crucial if Skyview hopes to return to state.
"Our two seniors need to have a balanced match," Skyview coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. "They need to be hitting on every cylinder on offense as well as defense.
"They're our leaders."
The Panthers also will need a consistent tournament from freshman setter Jennifer Holland.
Against the Moose, Skyview must figure out a way to stop Palmer's Jessie Macknicki. In Palmer's three-game sweep of Skyview in late October, Macknicki took apart Skyview's defense.
Soldotna vs. Colony
Like Skyview, the Stars are 1-9 in the region. Soldotna got bumped down to the No. 4 seed, and a match with the Northern Division No. 1 seed Colony, because Skyview had a better record against common opponents.
"We know we have a losing record, but that doesn't show all the tight matches we've had," Soldotna coach Pako Whanell said. "Those matches show the girls put out great effort.
"I told them anything's possible if they go out there and do their best and have fun."
Throughout the tournament, the Stars will look for senior leadership from Jacquelyn Cowan and Heather Roach. Cowan is one of the team's top servers and hitters, while Roach does a great job on defense. Junior Stacey Foster provides all-around play for the Stars.
Soldotna lost to Colony in three games in the regular season this year.
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