Soldotna's volleyball game is simple -- passing and defense.
It's those two elements that helped lead the Stars to an undefeated regular season. Those same two volleyball fundamentals will decide how far of a run SoHi can make at the state tournament today, Friday and Saturday at West Anchorage High School.
The Stars first square off against Chugiak, the No. 1 seed out of the Cook Inlet Conference, today at 3:45 p.m.
Soldotna faced Chugiak in the Diamond-Service tournament in late October. Chugiak defeated the Stars in two, 25-point games.
The Stars finished sixth in the tournament.
The first game was lopsided in Chugiak's favor but only a few points decided the second game, said SoHi senior Shana Powell after Tuesday's practice.
For Powell, there's no doubt her team has the talent to notch a win today. "We have the ability, if we all want it, if we all push," she said.
"We need to play our game," said Stars setter Emily Rohloff.
"SoHi volleyball is about defense and passing the ball," said head coach Bruce King. "We have to rely on our defense to trigger our offense. When we're playing our best level of defense, we're a very tough team to beat."
The Stars were in danger of being knocked out of the region tournament last week after losing to Kodiak in their first game. But SoHi rallied from its first loss of the season, excluding tournament play, and won three consecutive matches to earn a state berth.
"That just woke us up," Rohloff said. "We didn't want to go out like that."
The loss made the team realize though they were undefeated, they could be beaten, Powell said. After the Kodiak match, the team went back to the basics, Rohloff said.
"We just returned to our normal level of play," King said. "It was just them stepping up."
"We definitely came out with a different attitude," said Stars outside hitter Lydia Forbes. "Everyone was just playing a lot harder."
Like her teammates and coach, Forbes said solid passing and defense are keys to performing well at state.
Rohloff said the team needs to be scrappy. "We have to be prepared for anything," she said.
Blocking, too, is essential. As the team generates blocks, it electrifies everyone on the floor, Powell said.
"Once we start picking things up we get excited," she said. "Our hitting gets better and it snowballs."
"We need to come out ready to win," Forbes said. "Our attitude is a big part of it."
Faith in the rest of the team is also crucial for SoHi's success. Trust is important in order to work well together, Forbes added.
King said it doesn't matter which team Soldotna drew in the first round. Any one of them can win a match, he said.
"We're not overly concerned it's Chugiak and not someone else," he said.
Three of the eight teams in the tournament -- Chugiak, South and Diamond -- are Anchorage schools. SoHi, Colony, Juneau-Douglas, West Valley and Palmer round out the eight teams vying for the 2009 state championship.
Powell, who was named the South Division most valuable player at the region tourney, has been playing at a high level all season, King said. He said he expects her level of play to remain high at state.
Rohloff, too, has been consistent all year as the team's standout setter, King said.
In recent weeks, Forbes has elevated her game, he added.
"Everybody on this team has an important role," King said. "They all need to play their role and trust each other."
King said he's never gone into a state tournament with the goal of winning it all. If his team is still playing on Saturday, he'll be satisfied.
Still, a chance at the title is not out of the realm of possibility.
"If we play well, we have a shot," King said.
Mike Nesper can be reached at email@example.com.
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