The Thunder Mountain High School volleyball team traveled to Anchorage on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10 and 11 for the 2022 3A/4A Volleyball State Championships.
Despite not advancing to finals on Saturday, coach Julie Herman said there’s still far more to celebrate than to be discouraged over.
“Obviously we wanted to get into the finals, but realistically for our program, this is the best season we’ve ever had in Thunder Mountain Volleyball history,” Herman said. “We ranked high and worked hard, turned a lot of heads and the kids received a lot of compliments. Just a lot of good feedback for our relatively young school, this is only our third trip ever to this state title, and we’re hungry and continuing on.”
TMHS first paired off against Colony High School for their opening playoff game on Thursday. Herman said that the team came out aggressive to start off since Colony was the team that knocked the Falcons out of the tournament last year.
“The Colony game we, honestly, just came out on fire,” Herman said. “Mallory Welling led a lot of that, she had 17 kills overall in that match and we ended up winning the first match 25 to 16. We were elated, but volleyball is more than just one match, and they came right back and answered back at us finishing that second set 25 to 20, so we lost the second set.”
Herman said the third set was a pivotal set for TMHS because while matches typically end at 25 points, the third set went all the way up to 28/26, which Herman said was ultimately a back-and-forth game both mentally and physically all the way through. Despite losing the match, junior Ashlynn Gates would come up big for TMHS with 11 kills. By the fourth set, Herman said the team ran out of steam and struggled to convert the offense, and after Colony pressed hard, the Falcons fell in the last match 25 to 15.
The second game for TMHS was on Friday against Lathrop High School in the loser’s bracket. Though Lathrop has a solid program with all conference players, Herman said the Falcons were able to win in three sets with scores of 25-12, 25-23, and 25-11.
“They made a pretty good push at us in the second game and we just kind of clamped down a little harder on our serves and receives to finish them off and advance to another game,” Herman said.
In their third and final game Friday evening, TMHS faced off against A.J. Dimond High School, which Herman said is a team they had been circling all season. Though the Falcons would not manage to come out on top against Dimond, Herman said they were proud to keep the game competitive.
“We were really excited to get to test our volleyball intelligence and our volleyball match up against them,” Herman said. “Diamond is an old program, it’s low coached and we knew we were just going to have to play pretty dang amazing to take sets off of them. In the history of Thunder Mountain with me coaching, we have not taken a match from them, so every point was a big celebration.”
Dimond won the third match 25-14, 25-21, and 25-19. Herman said that even though they had their sights set on finals, they were still satisfied with the level of play they brought against them. Senior Moana Tuvaifale led the match with 11 kills out of 22 attempts, which Herman said put her roughly at a 400 rate. Juniors Jenna Dobson and Gates also had big moments throughout with aces and blocks between the both of them. Additionally, Herman said that junior Serenity Ault played exceptionally well in the back row for TMHS, allowing the defense line to run smoothly so the offense could execute.
“The big thing about Dimond is that they press pretty hard to serve receive, they serve very well and put us in some pretty difficult positions just based on the way they served to us, and so I want to give a shout out to Serenity Ault who averaged over a 2.3 pass percentage,” Herman said. “At the end of the day, though, Dimond was fast and it was hard to keep up with them on our blocks and we adjusted quite a bit as we answered back in that second game with more points but we just couldn’t convert it into a win.”
While the Falcons didn’t make it to finals this year, there were plenty of individual achievements to be recognized. Welling was selected for the all-state tournament team, which consists of the top 12 volleyball players within the entire state. Additionally, Welling was named player of the game in the Colony matches, Dobson was named the player of the game against Lathrop and Tuvaifale was player of the game against Dimond.
For many of the members of the Falcons, this will be their last year on the team as they’ll be graduating in 2023, but according to Herman while saying goodbye is never easy, she knows there are juniors coming up, looking to make their mark and earn a spot on the varsity team.
“We’ve got some spots to fill, Moana (Tuvaifale) running our offense for the last three years is going to be a huge void for us and obviously we’re losing a couple big seniors, but we had 20 juniors that sat on our team this year, so I know that they are excited to earn their varsity spots and are going to work hard in the off season because there’s a lot of them,” Herman said. “So, it’s always hard to say goodbye to your seniors because you’ve molded them into awesome players, but it’s also always a fun challenge to work with your next upcoming group.”
Lastly, Herman said that she, along with the other coaches, could not be more proud of this year’s team. She said she’s excited to see what next year can bring and hopes to continue with the same momentum and energy moving forward.
“We are so proud of our program and the work that all of the teams and coaches put in because when we walk through the gym, whether we win or we lose, we have our heads held high because we know we can play some volleyball. But we’re looking forward to next season already, and the kids are already talking about it and are excited,” Herman said.