In volleyball, it's hard to lose if you don't let the ball hit the ground.
Using a relentless defensive scheme, the Seward Seahawks demonstrated that principle flawlessly Saturday to upset the previously undefeated Grace Christian Grizzlies three games to one Saturday and take home the District3/3A title Saturday at Nikiski High School.
"We've been working really hard on that," said Seward coach head coach Angie Hammer of her team's defense following the win.
Most impressive about Seward's win was that it was a team effort. Every Seahawks player seemed more than willing Saturday to dive, dig and do whatever it took to stifle a powerful Grace attack.
"We've just got a group of girls that really worked hard," Hammer said.
Seward came out hot Saturday, taking a back-and-forth first game by the score of 25-21. The Seahawks won the game despite a constant barrage of spikes from Grace outside hitter Ally Erving, whose punishing shots could have caused Seward to back away early. Erving led all players with 23 kills, but could have had many more had it not been for the tough Seward defense.
The Seahawks stood tall in the face of Erving's spikes, led by the scrappy play of seniors Krista Boulden and Lisa Steinbrecher. Boulden led all players with 24 assists, many of them to Steinbrecher, who racked up 17 kills.
Boulden seemed to be everywhere at times, diving all over the court in search of Grace shots. Following the game Boulden who along with Steinbrecher was named to the all-district team for the Seahawks said Saturday's win was just a matter of Seward wanting to win at all costs.
"We kind of knew we were the underdogs," she said. "We just put our hearts into it."
Even after Grace came back to take the second game 25-21, Seward seemed to have the edge in momentum. The Grizzlies appeared out-of-synch throughout, dropping several balls between players because of poor communication.
Grizzlies coach Janet Kinney said Grace which was missing district MVP Valerie March because of an injury just couldn't seem to find its rhythm Saturday.
"She's really a leader out on the court," she said. "We had to adjust for that."
Kinney said she's hopeful March will be able to return for next week's state tournament. If not, the Grizzlies have a week to get ready for a Seward team that seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time.
"We've really come together in the last three weeks," Hammer said of Seward, which is making its 11th straight state tourney appearance next week. The Seahawks made Saturday's championship game after defeating Nikiski 3-1 Friday.
Hammer said Seward has played Grace tough all season, and she knew that if the Seahawks could put together a complete game they'd have a chance to knock off Grace.
"We knew they were beatable," she said.
After taking the third game 25-23, Seward definitely had the advantage, and Grace seemed to sense its first loss was looming.
"In volleyball, momentum is everything," said Kinney, whose team seemed to become more and more shaken as the match wore on.
In contrast, Seward got stronger as the game progressed, becoming more and more vocal with each point won. Grace pulled as close as 22-18 late in the fourth game, but after a Seward timeout the Seahawks rattled off three of the final four points to take a 25-19 win and possession of the district title.
After the match, an ecstatic Boulden said handing Grace its first loss of the season in the district championship game, no less gives the entire Seward team a tremendous boost heading into next week.
"It shows that if everybody plays their game, it'll go well," she said. "It can't get any better than that."
District III/3A Awards
Honorable Mention: Courtney Hoch, ACS; Kendra Madren, ACS; Dusty Lester, Su Valley; Noelle Valentine, Su Valley; Elizabeth Hubbell, ACS.
Second Team: Ally Gimple, Grace; Liz Bertolini, Heritage; Taryn Tumaeder, Heritage; Michelle Mitchell, Heritage; Courtney Elder, Houston; Charlot Main, ACS; Amy Reierson, Seward; Heidi Hartley, Su Valley; Brandi Argo, Houston; Kristen Beck, Seward; Sasha Auldridge, Nikiski; Breezy Wirsbinski, Houston.
First Team: Ally Erving, Grace; Megan Hanks, Heritage; Lisa Steinbrecher, Seward; Krista Boulden; Cynthia Sieben, Houston; Hannah Thompson, Nikiski; Stacey Griffel, Nikiski; Krystal Gladden, Nikiski; Shayla Moll, Grace; Valerie March, Grace (District Most Valuable Player).
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