The Thunder Mountain High School volleyball team’s season came to a close Friday evening.
Only a few hours after eliminating West Valley from the ASAA 4A volleyball state championships, the Falcons were sent packing after a 3-0 (25-10, 25-21, 25-12) loss to South Anchorage. It was the 10th match of the tournament and the fourth one of the day that resulted in one team being sent home. Colony staved off elimination twice — ousting Wasilla in the morning and then Soldotna in the afternoon — on either end of Thunder Mountain’s first state tournament win in program history.
By the end of the day Friday, Dimond, West Anchorage and South Anchorage were the only teams left standing.
The Falcons tied Soldotna for fifth place overall and finished the tournament 1-2. It was a solid finish to the season, according to TMHS coach Julie Herman, and matched the Falcons’ finish at an Anchorage tournament several weeks earlier.
“When we got fifth at Service-Dimond, I wanted to get fifth at state,” Herman said. “I knew we had to get through Juneau (Douglas) and that’s probably more difficult than anything. But once that happened, we were moving on to this weekend and this is the game we wanted to play in.”
Junior Tasi Fenumiai led the team with six kills and senior Audrey Welling posted five kills and 13 digs in the loss.
“We really just put it all out there,” senior Leilani Eshnaur said. “We did the best that we could and I think that’s the perfect ending to a season.”
After struggling to return South’s serves in the first set, the Falcons seemed to make all the proper adjustments in the second one.
Herman said she implored her team to a play a little more reckless.
“Just going for it,” she said. “Sometimes in a long day of volleyball, they play 90 percent and just don’t get off the ground as high, or don’t make the furthest reach. We just said in that huddle, ‘We are going to play 100 percent.’”
The Falcons went on a 6-0 run to take a 13-12 lead. They would later go up 19-17 before the Wolverines’ excellent serving returned and helped them retake the lead and win the set.
South coach Amy Mestas said she was impressed with the Falcons’ earlier win. Before the game, she reminded her team to “be ready for the play to just keep going.”
“We wanted them to be ready for the ball to be coming back at us,” Mestas said. “We had to stay focused and aggressive or Thunder Mountain could’ve really easily taken that game. It was really cool — I think they have great sportsmanship at Thunder Mountain and they play hard. Watching them earlier today was really fun.”
Junior Sarah Robinson and senior Megan Petersen combined for nine aces and sophomore Kinsey Schilke added six blocks in the win.
Falcons defeat Wolfpack
The Falcons twice gave up modest leads while trying to close out the first and fourth sets against West Valley in their second match of the tournament.
The Wolfpack, hailing from Fairbanks as the Mid Alaska Conference champions, rallied from a four-point deficit to tie the first set at 24-24. In the fourth set, they again rallied from four down to tie the set at 22-22.
Thunder Mountain responded valiantly both times and walked away with a 3-1 (26-24, 19-25, 25-18, 25-23) victory.
The program’s first-ever state tournament win came on the heels of a bruising 3-0 loss to West Anchorage less than 24 hours earlier.
“It was a new day, it was a new tournament for us today, coming up from a different side of the bracket,” Herman said. “I had no doubts that they were going to put on their best.”
The strong finish in the fourth set was even more impressive given how it started. West Valley senior Kami Steel served up a string of aces as the Wolfpack shot out to a 9-1 led. Steel’s serving was just as effective establishing early leads in the second and third sets when West Valley went on 11-0 and 6-1 tears.
“After that tough server, we were just telling each other, ‘Calm, cool, collected. We got this. We’re great passers,’” senior Marissa Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale said.
West Valley head coach Dave Cox said it wasn’t going to be enough to just be great in just one facet of the game.
“When the serves got over and we had to do something afterwards, that’s where they fell short,” Cox said. “You got to be able to keep the play in motion. We’ve played Thunder Mountain once before, we watched them play yesterday. We know how scrappy they are and that if we wanted to win, we’d have to put the ball on the floor, no soft play was going to pay off.”
Thunder Mountain falls to West Anchorage
Thunder Mountain High School fell to West Anchorage 3-0 (25-18, 25-6, 25-11) in the first round of the tournament Thursday.
The matchup pitted a rising power in the Falcons against a returning power in the Eagles. It was Thunder Mountain’s first-ever state championship appearance and West Anchorage’s first in over a decade.
Regardless of the team’s recent history, the Falcons knew the Eagles would be a formidable opponent. They watched them crush teams a few weeks earlier at the Dimond-Service Tournament, and were prepared to be pushed to their limits.
After trailing by six points early in the first set, the Falcons drew within 13-11, forcing West coach April Stahl to call a timeout.
“We wanted to earn some respect from some Anchorage teams and we felt great that they had to call the first timeout,” coach Herman said. “We came into our huddle and said, ‘That’s earned.’”
The Eagles scored the first three points out of the timeout, and led by three or more points the rest of the set.
“I think nerves were maybe a part of the first game,” Stahl said. “So we started off not talking as much but as the match went on, they got in system and played really well.”
West cruised to victories to the second and third sets behind the dynamic play of Danika Brown and Kathleen Dexter. The duo made numerous kills and blocks in each frame.
“We had a little bit of a pass breakdown in the second and third game and we had to put a little more free balls over and they were able to capitalize on some pretty tough hits,” Herman said.
Eshnaur had 13 digs and Mariah Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale had nine kills and 10 digs in the loss.
Welling said it was actually enjoyable to go against blockers like Brown and Dexter who stand over 6-foot-2-inches tall.
“It can be more difficult because you can’t just swing wherever you want to,” she said. “But it allows you to be smarter and also it puts up a challenge which is something that’s really fun to go up against. It’s another opportunity to learn something and work past an obstacle.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter @akempiresports.