Sometimes in Alaska, the magnitude of a sporting accomplishment can be masked by spotty record keeping. A team can think it has accomplished a superlative, and we'll even run that superlative in the newspaper, but the accomplishment can be undone by a parent who had a daughter accomplish the item in question way back in the 1980s, or by a trophy turned up behind some other trophy in the school's trophy case.
Thus far, the Soldotna girls volleyball team is in the clear. The Stars finished fourth at the Class 4A state tournament Saturday. Aaah, but was that a school-best finish?
On Saturday, Soldotna coach Bruce King, who has been around the area volleyball scene for about 20 years, said he thought Soldotna had never before finished fourth or better. The Alaska Schools Activities Association Web site also does not show a fourth-place or better finish for the Stars, but the records on the site from the 1980s do not go four places deep.
Enter Al Howard, who was a Soldotna administrator for nearly 20 years before retiring this year. He does not remember a finish that high. He said that in the 1980s, the volleyball program at Soldotna was still catching its stride and he didn't think there would have been a finish of fourth or better at state.
"I think we're being cautious enough about this," he said. "If it's not right, somebody will call."
Well, as of Wednesday, nobody had called, so congratulations seem in order for a school-best finish for the Stars.
Early in the season, King was already singing the praises of this senior-laden team, saying the squad was more eager to practice and less drama-filled than any he had coached.
The Stars steamrolled through the regular season without a loss in nontournament play, but immediately lost the first game of the Northern Lights Conference tournament -- a potential disaster for a team that had the Southern Division No. 1 seed the previous two years and did not advance to state.
Soldotna won three straight at the NLC tournament to move to state, then was swept in the first round at state by Chugiak. Again, the team came back to win two straight and take fourth.
The team deserves credit for keeping a stiff upper lip through a few jolting losses and setting a new standard for Soldotna volleyball.
"If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges."
Though NBA coach Pat Riley is credited with this quote, it could have just as easily come from the mouth of Kenai River Brown Bears interim head coach Oliver David.
In nearly every interview, David invariably utters the phrase, "staying positive."
Whether it's discussing the termination of former head coach Marty Quarters, who was fired after 12 games with the team this year, talking about the transactions involving top-scoring defenseman Micki Mahailovich or leading offensive player Dajon Mingo, or commenting on the team's recent 3-0 shutout loss to the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla, in every instance, David mentioned the importance of an optimistic outlook.
That message is just as crucial, if not more so, than having a knowledgeable coach on the bench. Many of the players came to the North American Hockey League to advance their hockey careers to the collegiate level. Developing players' skills and attitudes is equally important to achieve that goal.
That reality is not lost on David.
He's preached positivism since being named interim head coach six weeks ago.
"These guys need to really focus on rallying around each other and keep that optimistic outlook," he said after Quarters' firing.
"The score will eventually change for the group of young men that can consistently elevate attitude," David said after Mahailovich was traded a few weeks ago.
After the Avs shut out the Brownies on Friday, David kept his optimistic mind-set.
"The bench was very positive. I never felt let down by our team," he said.
If the Brown Bears take nothing else away from David's teachings, they should heed his message. Not only in sports, but in all aspects of life, remaining positive is essential for bettering oneself.
Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak works in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at email@example.com.
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