The Nikiski Bulldogs celebrate their third-place win over Grace Christian in the Class 3A state volleyball championships in Anchorage, Alaska, Satruday, Nov. 12, 2005.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
It takes a lot of heart to win a state championship. Sometimes it takes even more to take third place.
“It felt like we weren’t there, like we weren’t ready to play,” said Nikiski setter Stacey Griffel after her squad found itself a point away from losing the third-place match at the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank State 3A Volleyball Championships at West High School in Anchorage.
“There were times we’d get a real big kill, but then we’d make some more mistakes,” Griffel said. “But we pushed through the mistakes, and we were able to finish good.”
A good finish indeed: With Grace Christian serving for the match with a 24-23 lead in game four, Nikiski’s Hannah Thompson came up with a big kill and a pair of huge serves to give the Bulldogs a 26-24 win and force a fifth game.
The Bulldogs, finally showing some fire after looking emotionally and physically drained for much of the match, worked themselves into an early lead in the fifth game as Sasha Auldridge served for three straight points to put Nikiski up 6-2.
Nikiski's Stacey Griffel, center, hugs an unknown team member with Georgie Heaverley, front, standing by as they react to the team's loss in the Class 3A state volleyball championship semifinal game against Mt. Edgecumbe in Anchorage, Alaska, Friday, Nov. 11, 2005.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
The Grizzlies pulled back to within two points, but the Bulldogs defense was able to get to some balls that had been falling for Grace earlier in the match, and Auldridge hit one last serve for the 15-10 win and the match.
“We had some ups and downs through the whole thing. After what happened (Friday), we’re happy to win this game,” Thompson said.
In Friday’s match the Bulldogs, fresh of their three-game win over defending champion Valdez, dropped a five-game match to Mt. Edgecumbe. The Braves won 26-24, 8-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-13.
“Right after that match, I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Griffel said of her emotions following the loss. “It was real upsetting. It wasn’t what we planned.
“But we came back today. We said we were going to do it, and we did.”
Nikiski’s Georgie Heaverley said it would be easy to ask, “What if?” after Friday’s match, but said her team had to move on.
“We’re not going to dwell on it. It was good for us. It builds character,” Heaverley said.
Nikiski's Hannah Thompson returns the ball during a Class 3A state volleyball championship semifinal game against Mt. Edgecumbe in Anchorage, Alaska, Friday, Nov. 11, 2005.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
The Bulldogs certainly appeared to have put the disappointment behind them as they opened Saturday’s match with a 25-16 win. Thompson was unstoppable with eight kills in the game, including a smash off the Grace blockers to finish the game.
The Bulldogs ran into problems in the second game, though, as Grace’s Elizabeth Metcalf, Katelyn Perry and Rebekah Marselus took over the match with kill after kill.
Grace took a 17-9 lead, and while Thompson notched a kill and followed it with an eight-point service run to give Nikiski a one-point lead, the Bulldogs couldn’t sustain the momentum, losing 25-21.
The Bulldogs answered each Grace run with points of their own in the third game, but Nikiski couldn’t quite catch up, falling 25-22 to go down by two games.
“It was hard coming back after they won two games in a row,” Griffel said.
The Grizzlies appeared to be in control of the match with a 20-16 lead in the fourth game before the Bulldogs started clawing their way back.
“Momentum is a funny thing. It switches at the drop of a hat,” Thompson said. “We just got it in those last two games.”
A kill by Thompson gave Nikiski a 23-22 lead and got the team fired up, but Grace came back with a kill and an ace by Marselus to get to match point before the Bulldogs decided it was not quite time to roll over and play dead just yet.
“A few of us would just keep pushing, and the energy would spread to everyone,” Nikiski’s Amber Huhndorf said.
Griffel, ever the unselfish player (she finished with 37 assists), said she was competing for more than herself.
“I wanted to win for my team and for my school. Especially after beating Valdez, they got fourth, and it wouldn’t have been good to finish behind them in the tournament,” Griffel said, alluding to the fact that the loser of the third-place match gets fifth in the tournament standings.
Huhndorf also said it was nice to beat Grace after the Grizzlies upset the Bulldogs at the Southcentral Conference tournament last week.
“That was redemption right there,” Huhndorf said. “It definitely lightens up the trip home.”
The win sends Nikiski’s seniors out on a high note and also highlights the emergence of a group of talented juniors, many of whom worked themselves into the lineup while Heaverley was sidelined with an injury. Sherra Pritchard (11 blocks, four kills), Shayna Pritchard, Clare Bennett, Kim Copeland, Kyla Jorgensen and Flossie Jorgensen, not to mention Thompson (25 digs, 28 kills, seven blocks), all made big contributions for the Bulldogs.
Auldridge finished with 17 digs for the Bulldogs. Heaverley and Huhndorf had 14 and 12 digs, respectively, and the Bulldogs finished with 96 digs as a team.
Heaverley said she wasn’t concerned with finishing her career with a win as much as she wanted to make sure her team finished the season playing well.
“More importantly, we wanted to have fun,” Heaverley said. “Every play, we were picking each other up.
“We had an awesome season. We finished strong. We’re a strong team. It takes more than a loss to get us down. I’m going to miss it. I really am going to miss it.”
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