Thunder Mountain High School seniors gather for a picture prior to their last home game of the season against Juneau-Douglas on Friday night at TMHS. (Left to right): Kellie James, Tara Dymock, Leilani Eshnaur, Hannah Harvey, Kyra Jenkins Hayes, Sydney Lee, Alex Murray, Kiley Stevens, Marissa Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale, Audrey Welling, Coach Julie Herman. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Thunder Mountain High School seniors gather for a picture prior to their last home game of the season against Juneau-Douglas on Friday night at TMHS. (Left to right): Kellie James, Tara Dymock, Leilani Eshnaur, Hannah Harvey, Kyra Jenkins Hayes, Sydney Lee, Alex Murray, Kiley Stevens, Marissa Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale, Audrey Welling, Coach Julie Herman. (Nolin Ainsworth | Juneau Empire)

Seniors share spotlight with sisters, younger teammates

There’s a certain connection sisters Marissa and Mariah Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale share on the court.

Whether its Marissa setting the ball to Mariah, or Mariah bumping the ball to Marissa, the Thunder Mountain duo has been an electrifying pairing this season. It could be from their time playing at church, or at a volleyball camp in their native home of Hawaii. Or it may be — and this seems like the most plausible answer — it comes from being naturally-gifted and passionate volleyball players.

“We’ve just been playing together at church activities and so we know what we need to work on,” older sister Marissa Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale, 17, said. “We just look at each other and we know what we have to do. We know what we’re doing wrong, and we help each other even without talking.”

Marissa Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale was one of 10 seniors recognized on Friday night before the Falcons game against Juneau-Douglas. The other Falcons seniors include Audrey Welling, Leilani Eshnaur, Kyra Jenkins Hayes, Hannah Harvey, Alex Murray, Kiley Stevens, Tara Dymock, Kellie James and Sydney Lee.

The Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale sisters have been one key to Thunder Mountain’s success this season, but not the only one. TMHS coach Julie Herman said the seniors’ team-first mentality has been perhaps the biggest boon.

“We’ve been really fortunate this season to have really good leadership — whether they are sisters or not,” said Herman, who also coaches sisters Hannah and Sophia Harvey on the varsity team. “It’s pretty amazing to have these older girls that welcome anybody that wants to play at a high level. That’s been a precedent that’s been set in our program. It doesn’t matter your age.”

Sophomore Sophia Harvey played at a high level during the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza, and was rewarded with more playing time.

“This year, you can see our team dynamic, it’s so close. You can see that in our playing,” she said. “Last year, we kind of played for ourselves and not so much for the team. But then this year, it’s always like, ‘Oh man, Audrey, that was a killer hit, do it again!’ and, ‘Man, Marissa, that was an amazing save, thanks for doing that for the team!’”

Seniors like Murray, a strong outside hitter, have played important roles on the team. Murray moved to town from Arizona the summer before her freshman year and barely knew anyone when she came out for the team. It didn’t take long to make friends on the court, which helped her rise to the varsity team.

“My first day, I actually didn’t want to come because I thought I was going to be cut (from the team),” Murray said. “Everywhere I lived before, you cut in sports, especially volleyball. I got here and (former coach) Arnold (Ibias) was like, ‘No we don’t cut anyone.’ So he paired me with Mary Landes … and Mary definitely helped the transition and always helped me when I had questions about volleyball.”

Time will tell whether the seniors will carry the team to their first state tournament. They’ve endured season-ending losses to JDHS two years running at the Region V Championships.

“The rivalry, it’s really not mean, it’s a very friendly rivalry I would say,” Welling said. “When they won regions last year I was disappointed and I wished that we would’ve won. But I was still able to smile and congratulate them because they are a team from Southeast and I was proud of them.”

JDHS honors four seniors

JDHS celebrated its senior night on Saturday. The JDHS seniors include Riley Stadt, Shaylin Cesar, Skylar Hickok and Miranda Mitchell. Read about their story in the Friday Empire.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.


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