The Thunder Mountain High School Falcons are again heading to the state volleyball tournament after winning the Region V volleyball tournament, defeating the Ketchikan High School Kings by a score of 3-1 sets in the title game in Ketchikan on Saturday.
The two-day tournament played out according to the regular season standings as TMHS went 8-o in conference play and 33-11-7 overall, according to MaxPreps. Ketchikan (3-5 conference, 9-21-4 overall) finished second after defeating Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (1-7 conference, 7-34-1 overall) in straight sets on Saturday. It is the Falcons’ third straight conference title.
The Falcons, ranked 12th statewide and who finished fourth in last year’s tournament, are scheduled to play their first matchup during the three-day state volleyball championships against 10th-ranked South Anchorage High School (8-6 in the Cook Inlet Conference, 23-21-5 overall) at 3:15 p.m. Thursday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
TMHS and Ketchikan split the first two sets of the regional championship game 25-21 and 22-25 before the Falcons asserted their season-long dominance by winning the final two sets 25-10 and 25-16.
“They came at us pretty hard,” Thunder Mountain senior Ashlyn Gates told the Ketchikan Daily News. “We did have a little bit of trouble. They were bringing some offense pretty hard at us, but we did pretty well getting it together and just rallying back in the last two sets.”
Although TMHS prevailed in every regular season game against Ketchikan, the mindset was different coming into the tournament that started Friday, Falcons coach Julie Herman told the Empire on Sunday.
“The regional tournament is completely different than regular season because every team’s come into play for their last matches of the season, so it’s always more intense and there’s more invested,” she said. “And so it was a great weekend of volleyball, all three teams showed up really strong. Ketchikan played with a lot of heart, and we talked about it, we had to want it more, we had to work harder and we had to do a couple other magical things to make it happen.”
Ketchikan coach Dennis Walsh told the Ketchikan Daily News his team was able to take advantage of TMHS errors during the first sets.
“In the first couple sets a lot of their hits were just going out,” he said. “We were putting pressure up on the ball on the net and forcing them to hit high. In that third set, they just kind of started swinging. They are attacking from so many different positions that you have to give something up. We were giving up the deep back-line stuff, not wanting to get beat in that donut hole in front, and they just started hitting those spots.”
The double-elimination tournament started on Friday with Ketchikan sweeping JDHS 25-16, 25-22 and 25-12. The Kings then played a back-and-forth series of sets against TMHS before losing by sets scores of 25-22, 26-24, 25-20.
JDHS, after their initial loss Friday and facing elimination in a Saturday rematch against Ketchikan, showed some of the team’s improvement and resilience from the regular season by keeping the score tight during much of the game. The first set was tied 15-15 before Ketchikan went on a 10-1 to prevail, JDHS led 18-16 in the second set before Ketchikan took it with a 9-5 closing run and the Crimson Bears led the third set 20-16 before the Kings advanced to the title game with a 25-22 win.
“I think some of the struggle the girls have had kind of all year long is playing it safe, not being able to play aggressively throughout the whole game,” said JDHS coach Jody Levernier in an interview Monday. “And we just we had a long talk on Friday after the game about how this was potentially it for them. And they just had to play their hearts out, leave it all on the court and do everything they can do to win, and I think that for the most part, they did that.”
While JDHS started the season with five seniors on its varsity roster — half as many as TMHS had during the regional tournament — four varsity players returning to the Crimson Bears next year are reason for optimism, Levernier said.
“It’ll be a totally different story,” she said. “I think so anyway, that’s my goal.”
TMHS will have fewer returning varsity players, but Herman said that means she has high hopes for the team as it goes to the state tournament after playing for four years in the school’s program.
“We are definitely looking at it as this year is a positive of having so much what we call volleyball IQ,” she said. “And that’s pretty awesome to celebrate — and most of the 10 on that roster, eight of them were all-academic (meaning) they put a lot of work into their studies as well as volleyball.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.