Thunder Mountain High School’s Ashlyn Gates, seen hitting the ball past Ketchikan High School defenders during the Region V Volleyball Tournament last Saturday, was named the outstanding player for the Falcons during their elimination game against Dimond High School in the statewide 4A Volleyball Championship on Friday in Anchorage. Thunder Mountain lost the match in four sets. (Christopher Mullen / Ketchikan Daily News File)

Thunder Mountain High School’s Ashlyn Gates, seen hitting the ball past Ketchikan High School defenders during the Region V Volleyball Tournament last Saturday, was named the outstanding player for the Falcons during their elimination game against Dimond High School in the statewide 4A Volleyball Championship on Friday in Anchorage. Thunder Mountain lost the match in four sets. (Christopher Mullen / Ketchikan Daily News File)

Thunder Mountain’s volleyball season ends with loss to defending state champs

Strong rallies by Falcons keep match close before decisive fourth set.

Thunder Mountain High School’s volleyball season came to an end Friday with a 3-1 sets loss to defending state champion Dimond High School on Friday at the Alaska School Activities Association’s 4A Volleyball Championship in Anchorage.

The TMHS Falcons played the Dimond Lynx tough during the first three sets, including rallying from a 13-19 deficit to win the third set 25-22 to prolong the match at the Alaska Airlines Center. The Falcons, after losing the first set 16-25, came close to another huge rally in the second set, turning a 12-21 deficit into a 23-24 dogfight, but a strong hit by Dimond that fell just inside the backline gave them the set.

The Falcons fell behind quickly in the fourth set, going on to lose 9-25.

While the loss means Thunder Mountain will fall short of its fourth-place finish last year, coach Julie Herman said she is proud of her team’s play Friday.

“We have not taken a set off Dimond before or a match,” she said in an interview after the match. “And we decided today was going to be the day and our kids just came out — our vibe today was ‘we can, we will, and we’ll do it together.’ And we are very satisfied. You don’t get to win every game that you play, but if you play in pursuit and you play together as a team that’s what athletics is about.”

Ashlyn Gates, a senior, was named the outstanding player of the game for the Falcons.

“Ashlyn put up a huge block against that middle, and she was able to block and move around, and we ran more difficult set strings than we normally do,” Herman said.

Also notable during the game was senior Kaidree Hartman, who served during much of the Thunder Mountain rally in the second set and again in the third.

“She just has this wicked, very tight-to-the-net topspin serve, and she can place it,” Herman said.

Herman said a big part of the Falcons’ persistence in the second and third sets was a strategy of “short serves on their defense and throwing them out of system,” plus strong blocking by her players on the outside.

“Our game plan was to spread the middle — we’ve got a very large middle six, seven — and we wanted to spread out our set so that (they) had to chase us and we were in charge of the tempo. We did a good job at that today.”

But in the fourth and final set, the Falcons weren’t able to overcome the early deficit.

“I think that we had a couple of miscommunication errors and some things, but I also think Dimond just decided they were going to beat us,” Herman said. “And that happens to everybody.”

Thunder Mountain struggled during much of its first game in the double-elimination tournament against South Anchorage on Thursday, losing the first two sets 12-25 and 9-25 before keeping it close in the third set that South won 20-25.

“They came out and ran a triple block at us straight off the bat, and it just kind of got us on our heels,” Herman said. “And I think we came out a little bit flat. Every time when we come up north it always seems to take us a couple of sets to get up to the Anchorage speed of the game, which is why we had a much better showing there in that third set.”

Zoey Moore, a senior, was named the Falcons’ outstanding player for that match.

The Falcons, with 10 seniors on their roster Friday, finished 8-o in Region V conference play — their third straight year as Southeast region champions — and 33-13-7 overall this season.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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