On their Senior Night it was fitting the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé volleyball players showed their growth in a dozen key moments where inches made the difference in a five-set comeback win against Ketchikan High School on Friday night at JDHS.
An out-of-bounds ruling barely in the Crimson Bears’ favor with the score tied 24-24 in the fourth set. Strategically placed taps over the net putting the ball just past Ketchikan players a hair inside the sideline. Saves on hard spikes to cut off rally attempts by Ketchikan during the final three sets which JDHS won to claim the victory after losing the first two sets.
“There is so much improvement from this year, especially from the underclassmen, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come as a senior to see that that’s they’re taking our places,” said Kiah Yadao, one of the seven seniors on Saturday’s varsity roster.
The marathon match also marked the passing of an endurance test for JDHS (7-34-1 overall this season, according to MaxPreps), which defeated Ketchikan (9-19-4) during the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza two weeks ago, but this was the first victory in four tries this season against the Kings in 4A Southeast Conference play (which consists of three teams, including Thunder Mountain High School).
“I think it was hard,” said Chloe Casperson, another senior, looking back to the start of the season. “There was a lot of new people trying to figure out positions, trying to figure out what was working for us the best and I think we’re starting to figure it out.”
JDHS coach Jody Levernier said her team is playing more confidently and aggressively as they wrap up the regular season.
“We spend time talking a lot about not playing it safe, being aggressive and playing smart, and pushing through the entire match. Sometimes they would play hard and then they kind of get a little bit safe,” she said. “And then then tonight it felt like they just went out and continued to be aggressive.”
The TMHS Falcons (31-11-7 overall, 8-0 in the 4A Southeast Conference) had an easier time during their Senior Night on Friday, defeating Ketchikan in straight sets by scores of 25-16, 25-12 and 25-12. But the team is also getting a chance to evaluate how players have progressed and the prognosis entering the regional playoff tournament in the hopes of making it to state, where the Falcons finished fourth last year.
“They came in from middle school when there wasn’t a middle school program, or at least consistently,” said TMHS coach Julie Herman, referring to her senior players. “And so they came in pretty green. And we’re very proud of them and the growth that they can do running their systems and understanding the game, and I guess the with-it-ness, as they call it. They’ve come a long way and it showed on Friday night.”
While TMHS has dominated regional play, they are facing rivalries to the north they’ll have to overcome to make a run at a state title. As with JDHS against Ketchikan, the Falcons a week earlier managed to avenge a defeat by beating Chugiak High School — which won the title game against TMHS in the local JIVE tournament — before ultimately finishing fifth in the 20-team Dimond Service Volleyball Tournament in Anchorage.
“It was a great tournament for us, we played some really tough teams,” Herman said.
While TMHS has the stronger and more experienced local team during a season with nine seniors on its opening varsity roster, with JDHS looking to grow with five seniors on opening day, coaches for both teams say they’re expecting adjustments as they look ahead to next year without the players in this year’s graduating class.
JDHS has two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman on the varsity team who are returning next year, all of whom are developing into strong players at their positions, Levernier said. She said, much like this year, there also will be a lot of young players from the school’s other squads.
“We have a lot of freshmen, a lot of sophomores right now — we only actually have only two other juniors,” she said. “So a lot of freshmen and sophomores. So it’s probably going to be a fairly young team next year, but those are definitely some good kids.”
TMHS, which recognized 15 seniors from its volleyball squads on Senior Night, is going to be losing some of its best players at key positions, Herman said.
“Two of them are middles, two of them are setters and so that’ll be huge shoes to fill next year running the offense,” she said. “We’ve been telling our program all year ‘work on your setting, work on your middle, because we’ve definitely got some open spots next year and there’ll be room for you.’”
Only three varsity players are currently slated to return for the Falcons next year, Herman said.
“It’s going to be a growing season next year for sure,” she said. “So I am always up for the challenge and love challenges.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.