Thunder Mountain High School volleyball coach Julie Herman can always tell when her team is in the zone.
“You can just see it on their faces,” the first-year head coach said after a recent win over Juneau-Douglas. “That level of play is just this beautiful moment. It’s like where time stops and they’re just playing volleyball.”
In the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza championship game Saturday night at Juneau-Douglas High School, the Falcons were having one of those moments. After a come-from-behind win in the first set over Craig, the tournament Cinderella who upset Mt. Edgecumbe in the semifinals, Thunder Mountain dominated in the second set, claiming a 25-23, 25-16 victory and their third consecutive JIVE championship.
“That was earned, that was not given,” Herman said. “That was a hard weekend of volleyball.”
Audrey Welling, Kyra Jenkins Hayes, Mariah Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale and Sophia Harvey each had three or more kills in the win. Craig also had multiple weapons on offense, including Ashley Hansen and Kennedy Stumpf, but not enough to successfully counter the Falcons. It was the Panthers’ first-ever appearance in the championship game.
“I think we underestimated ourselves,” Stumpf said. “But when we finally believed in ourselves, then it came together. It all came from our love for the game and our hope for our team. “
The championship match marked the 73rd and 74th sets of volleyball played at the tournament, which began with 10 teams Friday afternoon. Each team contested nine games in pool play before moving on to the elimination round Saturday afternoon.
JDHS (8-1), Mt. Edgecumbe (7-2), Thunder Mountain (7-2), Craig (6-3), Petersburg (5-4) and Sitka (5-4) were seeded into the Gold Bracket while Klawock (3-6), Wrangell (3-6), Ketchikan (1-8) and Haines (0-9) were seeded into the Silver Bracket.
Thunder Mountain defeated Sitka in the quarterfinals before taking down JDHS 18-25, 25-16, 16-14 in an intense battle.
JDHS had lost its previous seven sets to TMHS heading into the match.
JDHS looked every bit the No. 1 seed in the first set against Thunder Mountain. The Crimson Bears were in position on seemingly every play, leaving the Falcons looking somewhat stunned. Thunder Mountain watched two Kiana Potter serves all the way to the court. The Falcons quickly found themselves in a 14-5 hole from which they could not recover.
“We watched Thunder Mountain and Sitka play each other and we just saw how much motion they had,” JDHS coach Brandee Gerke said. “So we got out there and I said, ‘Hey, this is the kind of motion that we need to have.’ So we got out there and they moved like that.”
The Falcons stormed back to win the second set before the JDHS defense made a sterling return in the third set. Sensing her team’s momentum slipping away, Herman called two timeouts in the first five minutes of the game. It didn’t slow down the Crimson Bears the first time — JDHS increased its 7-3 lead to 10-5 — but it did work the second time.
The Falcons tied the game at 12 and Tasi Fenumiai scored the go-ahead and match point with two thunderous hits from the left side of the net.
“It felt so good,” said Fenumiai, who had a team-high 14 kills. “I was kind of in the dumps because I kept missing and then that happened and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”
JDHS rebounded with a win over Petersburg before falling to Mt. Edgecumbe in the third-place game.
“It’s definitely rewarding once you get up and bring yourself back up from a loss,” JDHS sophomore JoJo Griggs said.
“Today we brought our cheering game,” she added. “That was good and that helps us keep the energy up and keep it positive.”
Both Juneau teams are on the road next weekend. The Falcons fly south for games against Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe. JDHS will go north to Anchorage and play in the Dimond-Service Tournament.
2018 JIVE All-Tournament Team
Shaylin Cesar, Juneau‐Douglas
Miah Dumag, Sitka
Helen Decker, Wrangell
Haliegh Ebbighauser, Craig
Marissa Haddock, Haines
Martha Johnson, Petersburg
Mady Purcell, Kayhi
Malory Smith‐Turpin, Klawock
Haley Sweet‐Cushing, Mt. Edgecumbe
Audrey Welling, Thunder Mountain
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com.