It took a decade, but Cook Inlet Academy is headed to the Class 1A/2A state volleyball championships.
The Eagles defeated Lumen Christi 25-23, 21-25, 25-19 and 25-20 to win the Borealis Conference tournament championship Friday night on their home floor, giving the Cook Inlet volleyball program its first state-tournament berth since coming into existence in 2000.
"It means a lot," said co-coach Lindsay Keener, in her first season alongside fellow coaching newcomer Janel Franchino. "It's always been about basketball here, and we want to be known for more, for volleyball."
Three state-championship basketball banners clung to the wall above the Eagles' court as they jumped up and down following the final point, which came off the right arm of senior outside hitter Tiffany Smith.
The Eagles won the final seven points of the fourth game after blowing a 9-2 lead. They regained the momentum when senior Kali Chilson dove to the floor to get her left hand on a sinking ball, sending it over the net and helping the Eagles win what became one of the longest rallies of the night.
That cut Lumen Christi's lead to 20-19, and the Eagles never relinquished the serve.
"We just tell them to take it one point at a time, one game at a time," Keener said.
Now the Eagles, who finished 5-3 in league play and defeated Seldovia to advance to the finals, are headed to state at Dimond High School on Thursday through Saturday.
For the upperclassmen, it's a chance to bring credibility to a program that's struggled for 10 years.
Kelsi Leaf, a junior, said she has noticed a change in attitude since Keener and Franchino joined the staff.
"It's exciting," she said. "Last year we were building, but we have definitely exceeded my expectations."
The Eagles won a back-and-forth Game 1 25-23, but dropped the second game after holding a 12-8 lead. The score was tied at 20 before the Archangels took five of the final six points.
In a pivotal third game, the Eagles scored seven of eight points to turn an 18-18 tie into a six-point final advantage.
"It was kind of a turning point," Keener said.
Seldovia defeated Lumen Christi 3-2 in the second-place game Saturday, earning the No. 2 seed to state.
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