Thunder Mountain High School rallied from a one-set deficit to claim their first-ever Region V 4A championship on Saturday night at JDHS.
The Falcons defeated Juneau-Douglas 3-2 (25-11, 19-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-8) in a game that saw both teams intent on keeping their seasons alive.
After getting blown out in the first set, the Crimson Bears took early leads in each of the following three. They ran away with the second set, but had to weather Thunder Mountain surges in the next two. JDHS led 20-13 in the fourth set before TMHS caught fire and finished the set on a 12-3 run.
“I knew that we were going to come back and fight for everything because that’s just who we are,” senior Leilani Eshnaur said. “We weren’t going to let them roll over us so we fought for everything.”
It was all Falcons in the fifth set.
“It was magical, it really was,” senior Kiley Stevens said. “Those last 15 points our team was just so on fire and we were communicating and we were celebrating every point that anybody got like it was our own. We wanted it so bad and I wouldn’t want to play with anybody else.”
JDHS senior Skylar Hickok had no regrets when it was over. “We gave it everything, and that’s all we could’ve done,” she said.
It’s not like the Falcons weren’t used to playing on the big stage.
It was the Falcons’ fifth appearance in the Region V 4A championship game in the last seven years. It was the stage of the tournament that always resulted in heartache — not happiness — for Thunder Mountain. In three of their four previous trips to the championship game, the Falcons lost in the fifth set or a 30-point tiebreaker.
Arnold Ibias was the head coach for all three of these aching setbacks. Last year’s might’ve stung the worst, because it was his last opportunity to bring a team to the state championships. The longtime assistant turned head coach decided years earlier he would go out with last year’s seniors. Even so, Ibias admits he had some reservations about holding up his end of the bargain. He said his faith in coach Julie Herman made it easier to do so.
Herman coached most of the players already from her time with the junior varsity squad, and Ibias saw something special in his understudy.
“I feel like I’m a good coach, too,” Ibias said. “But it just feels like she gets this extra little something out of them that not all coaches can get.”
Stevens — who’s playing in her third season under Herman — described it this way.
“She demands your best — I guess would be a good way to put it,” Stevens said. “She doesn’t settle for less than what she knows you can do, which is really important in a coach because you know she believes in you but she’s not going to just tell you you’re doing great if you’re not.”
Herman taught her players to imitate this kind of accountability amongst each other.
“We talk about looking each other in the eye and giving real high fives and checking in with each other,” Herman said. “So much of any sport … is that mental part. If we’re there to support each other, the mental part is good and then we just get to have a ball showing off our physical stuff.”
The Falcons now get to have a lot of fun playing one more week of volleyball. The Class 4A state volleyball tournament begins on Thursday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. Dimond, South Anchorage, Soldotna, Colony, West Anchorage and West Valley are some of the other teams that clinched state berths this week.
Region V Volleyball 4A Champions:
2018 Thunder Mountain
1974 Mt. Edgecumbe
1973 Mt. Edgecumbe
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.