For the first time in the history of the state volleyball championships, a team that suffers an unfortunate first-round loss or a top team that is upset in the finals will not be out of the title running.
The Alaska School Activities Association passed a board decision last year tournament establishing a double-elimination tournament bracket when the ASAA Volleyball State Championships begin Thursday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla.
“We have been asking for this for several years,” Juneau-School District Activities and Athletic Director, and Region V ASAA board representative, Sandi Wagner said. “We were never able to push it through, but a double elimination volleyball tournament is easily done. Lots of games can be played in one day.”
The change makes a longer opening day, with the winners of the first four matches playing later in the day.
While most coaches were in favor of the new format, others, such as Palmer Moose coach Steve Reynolds, initially showed displeasure.
“I started out pretty opposed to the bracket for state,” Reynolds said in a Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman interview. “I always just waned to see better seeding.”
Unlike the state basketball tournament, volleyball teams are not ranked 1-8, but are on a rotational seeding; meaning the second best team in the tourney could face the pre-tourney favorite in the first game.
“We don’t seed the tournament,” Wagner said. “It is on a rotation basis. So very easily two of the best teams could be on the same side of the bracket.”
Thus, the double-elimination is vital in achieving the best match up for Saturday’s title clashes. Volleyball is also more conducive for playing multiple matches in a day, as opposed to the lengthy time constraints of basketball.
Another addition to the new tournament format is the implementation of the “If Necessary” game. The ASAA board allowed the ASAA staff to determine that process. If an undefeated team loses its final match in the title game, giving it a first loss, the “If” game is played shortly after to 30 points to determine the state champ.
“It gets the nerves out of the way,” JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. “So if you get the tough draw, no matter what, you are still playing for the final game.”
The bottom line for the Crimson Bears, or any team, is that you have to beat the best to be the best.
“We haven’t played many of these teams before hand,” JDHS senior Rachel Doogan said. “These teams have been playing each other a lot all season. Most of the teams we have played in southeast haven’t been as strong. We have to make sure we stay on top of our game, stay focused. We had some lapses, especially up at the Dimond tournament. We learned a lot from that, but we still struggle with that.”
Dimond is the pre-tournament favorite. The new double elimination format was used in their conference tournament, as well as the Northern Lights and Southeast. The Lynx had one loss that came during their conference tournament against South. In that double elimination format they came back and beat South twice for the conference title. The two teams played for the state championship last season, with South prevailing. Both squads are tall and athletic and have accounted for the last seven state titles. Juneau is the last team from outside Anchorage to win the state title, in 2002.
“I need to try a lot harder and get up as much as I can in order to size up to them because they are a lot more experienced than I am,” JDHS freshman Maddie McKeown said. “I am really excited. I am really honored that I am a freshman on varsity.”
JDHS, the Southeast Conference’s number 1 (and only) seed, will open tourney play at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against the Kodiak Bears (Northern Lights Conference 3).
“We need to communicate,” JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. “We need to talk and out hustle our opponents. We are going to be facing bigger, taller players and they play more often throughout the year.”
Other 4A opening matches include Dimond (Cook Inlet Conference 1), last year’s semi-finalist, against Palmer (NLC2) at 3:15 p.m.; West Valley (Mid Alaska Conference 1) vs. East Anchorage (CIC3) 10 a.m.; and Soldotna (NLC1) plays last season’s state champion South Anchorage (CIC2) at 11:45 a.m.
On the 3A side, defending state champion Mt. Edgecumbe (SEC1) opens with Nikiski (South Central 2) at 10 a.m.; Valdez (Aurora1) plays Barrow (Western2) 1:30 p.m.; Skyview (SCC1) vs. Grace Christian (SCC3) 3:15 p.m.; and Nome (WC1) vs. Monroe (AC2) 11:45 a.m.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that non-Anchorage schools have prevailed 23 out of 27 times since the 3A tournament began. Grace Christian is the only Anchorage team in this year’s 3A tournament and is the third seed out of the tough Southcentral Conference, joining No. 1 seed Valdez and No. 2 seed Nikiski. The 3A field represents tremendous geographic diversity -- Barrow from the north, Nome from the west, Mt. Edgecumbe from southeast and Monroe from the Interior.