With the program's first region championship under their belt and a spiffy 16-1 overall record, it's easy to forget that the Skyview volleyball team has just two starters back from a year ago.
So, even though the Panthers took second at state last year, coach Sheila Kupferschmid said experience is a legitimate concern as Skyview prepares for its first game of the state tournament today.
The Panthers will face Bartlett in the first round of the eight-team Class 4A state tournament at 3:30 p.m. today. Also from the peninsula, Homer will take on West Valley in the Class 4A tournament at 5:15 p.m. today.
Finally, Seward will represent the peninsula in the Class 3A tournament. The Seahawks play defending state champion Valdez at 8:30 a.m. today.
Skyview seniors Christina Colvin and Jenny Carpenter are the only returning starters from last year's state runner-up squad.
That led Kupferschmid to predict at the beginning of the year that Skyview would be a rebuilding squad, and would be happy to just keep up with Region III/4A competitors Homer, Kenai and Soldotna.
But the Panthers got a key addition in Nynke Salverda, a 6-foot-2 foreign exchange student from Holland. Salverda has eaten up the experience, and had her video camera ready to roll as a police and fire department escort led the Panthers out of town en route to Anchorage Wednesday.
"This is my one year here," Salverda said. "I'm so excited. I never could have imagined it would turn out like this."
Anna Bonebrake also was able to contribute at middle blocker despite being only a freshman.
Junior Laurel Creel, who was the first substitute off the bench for Skyview last year, mixed her athletic ability with more knowledge and emerged as a solid outside hitter.
Finally, juniors Amanda Fay and Lindsey Gephardt and sophomores Amber Kunz and Katie Lewis all grew into their roles.
The result is a team that's riding high after a five-game victory over Palmer to ice the region championship.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was just to get to the region finals," Kupferschmid said. "For the kids to win it is amazing."
Part of the reason Skyview has been able to overachieve is the team's tightness as a unit. Monday, the squad got together and dyed their hair purple. Creel said the dye is in for 40 to 50 washes.
"All season, we've been pretty together," Creel said. "Nobody has done any fighting at all."
Kupferschmid said Bartlett is an athletic team that, like Skyview, has a lot of offensive weapons. The coach said the key to the game will be ball control, both with back-row passing and with setting.
"We have to play good defense," Gephardt said. "With Palmer in that fifth game, it seemed like we were digging up everything.
"We have to keep that going."
If the back row can get the ball to the setter Colvin, Skyview should be in good shape.
"She has so much experience and she has given us so much floor leadership this year," Kupferschmid said of Colvin. "She's not the one getting all the kills, so sometimes I don't think she gets all the credit she deserves."
If both Skyview and Homer win today, it would set up an all-peninsula semifinal Friday.
Homer coach Beth Trowbridge did not know much about West Valley, but Kupferschmid described the Wolfpack as a defensive team.
It will fall on seniors Holly McCune and Chelsea Ward to break that defense and make Homer's first trip to state in over 10 years a pleasant one.
"(Ward) has really stepped up her play the last couple of weeks," Trowbridge said. "Last weekend at regions was the best that I've seen her play."
Trowbridge also said senior setter Sara Thompson, junior outside hitter Sarah Manalisay and sophomore defensive specialist Bailey Lowney will play key roles for Homer.
"For me, this shows a turnaround in the program," said Trowbridge, in her third year at Homer. "When I got here, we had the athletes but we didn't have the attitude we could win.
"Now young girls have the attitude that Homer can do what it's done this year."
In Class 3A, Seward opens against defending champion Valdez, but it is the Seahawks and their 18-1 record that are favored in the tournament. Seward did not lose a single game in the District 3/3A tournament and last won a state title in 1996.
The Seahawks have six seniors. Two of those seniors -- Alder Olive and Tara DeRuwe -- have been playing varsity since freshman year, and two more have been on varsity since sophomore year.
Seward coach Angela Hammer said Olive and DeRuwe will be important in leadership roles, and 6-foot-0 senior Ann Linville will be key if she keeps up her recent surge in the attacking and blocking departments.
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