Cook Inlet Conference champion East Anchorage took advantage of its height and beat second-seeded Soldotna, 25-15, 25-22, 25-19, on Thursday in the first round of the Class 4A state volleyball tournament at West High of Anchorage.
Having already fallen by 10 in the opening set, Soldotna coach Pako Whannell said the Stars realized they needed to work around the Thunderbirds’ dual-blocking system.
“We had to place the ball in the corners or on the setter’s side where their defense was weaker,” she said. “They were pretty big and had good jumping ability. They were very consistent in blocking.”
SoHi then went ahead 11-8 in the second frame and owned a three-point advantage later in the set.
“They did come back because of our unforced errors,” Whannell explained. “They didn’t do anything spectacular in the second or third games.”
Both teams went back-and-forth in the final set before East ran off a string of successful serves and took the match.
“We couldn’t hit around their blocker,” she said. “That is why they kind of pulled ahead there in the third game.”
Junior Paige Blackburn, who received SoHi’s player of the game honors, recorded 13 kills, senior Sara Heminger had 22 assists and three aces, senior Dani Donaldson collected five kills and three aces, senior Christa Kennedy picked up eight kills and sophomore Jessi Stenga added 12 digs.
Whannell said nerves may have affected her team’s play in the first set.
“They were excited, but of course, a little bit scared,” she said. “The second and third games they played very aggressively, came out with a lot of enthusiasm and were smart in attacking the ball.”
The Stars will take on West Valley, a top seed out of the Mid-Alaska Conference, today at 10:45 a.m.
“I did see them practice (Wednesday),” Whannell said of West Valley. “It’s very doable.
“I told the girls, ‘We can beat this team.’ We need to play aggressively and consistently,” she added. “The girls believe that, too.”
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