Thunder Mountain High School fell to West Anchorage 3-0 (25-18, 25-6, 25-11) in the first round of the ASAA volleyball state championships Thursday in Anchorage.
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,” TMHS coach Julie 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.
Sophomore Mariah Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale had nine kills and 10 digs and senior Leilani Eshnaur had 13 digs in the loss.
Senior Audrey 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.”
Thunder Mountain joined Wasilla, Colony and West Valley in the loser’s bracket. All four teams play Friday morning in elimination matches. Northern Lights Conference foes Colony and Wasilla square off at 10 a.m. before Thunder Mountain takes on West Valley at 11:45 a.m.
The Eagles went on to defeat Soldotna Thursday night and will play in the semifinals against Dimond 5 p.m. Friday. Soldotna, which won its first match 3-2 over West Valley, will play at 1:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Wasilla and Colony. South Anchorage, which won its first match 3-1 over Wasilla, will play at 3:15 p.m. Friday against the winner of Thunder Mountain and West Valley.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.