The East Anchorage Thunderbirds eliminated Juneau-Douglas High School from the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 4A State Volleyball Championships Friday afternoon.
JDHS followed the Wasilla Wolves — whom they eliminated themselves in the morning — and Colony as Friday’s eliminated teams. West Valley High School eliminated Soldotna shortly after Juneau’s exit. In the final match of a long Friday at West Anchorage High School between East Anchorage and West Valley, the Thunderbirds prevailed for the second time in the day.
East Anchorage squared off against Bartlett on Saturday morning with a spot in the state championship game against Dimond on the line.
The Thunderbirds erased an four-point deficit in the second set and three-point deficit in the third set to win, 3-0 (25-17, 25-16, 25-20). Senior outside hitter Abby Meiners said it was the best kind of loss to endure.
“The last couple of years we’ve played East before tournaments and in tournaments and been crushed and destroyed,” Meiners said. “This year we hung with them and it was so satisfying to be able to play that kind of volleyball.”
The morning win and close afternoon game showed improvements in serving, passing and teamwork from the day before, when JDHS lost to Soldotna.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” JDHS senior middle hitter Cassie Dzinich said. “This is such a great way to go out of the tournament if we had to go out. East (Anchorage) is such a good team and we adjusted and played with them and we were beating them at times. That feels so great.”
The win over Wasilla marked the first win at the state tournament in the high school careers of the four varsity seniors. JDHS placed fourth at the state tournament in 2012 but finished last in three of the next four. In 2015, the Crimson Bears did not qualify for state.
If that wasn’t enough, the all-meaningful win came against one of the teams that swept them at state last year: Wasilla.
“Wasilla killed us and it was a game we should’ve played harder in and whatnot so this year, the seniors especially, had that motivation like, ‘We don’t want to lose again to them,” senior right side hitter Leah Spargo said.
Dzinich pummeled the Warriors’ defense with her attack — recording 21 kills in four sets of volleyball — that produced a 3-1 (25-23, 25-17, 18-25, 25-7) win. Meiners and Shaylin Cesar totaled 17 respective digs in the win.
JDHS coach Dale Bontrager called a timeout with his team trailing 23-21 and on the verge of losing their fourth straight set of the tournament. The Crimson Bears went on a 4-0 run to reclaim the lead and win the set, a good sign for all the Crimson Bears faithful in attendance.
“After we lost (to Soldotna), we got together and we were like, ‘OK, we’re not happy with that,’” Dzinich said. “And we know we worked so hard to get here and we played so well to get here so we’re not just going to get here and lose it.”
JDHS won the second set but Wasilla would not be swept. After losing the third set, the Crimson Bears quickly deflated the Warriors in the fourth, starting the set on a 11-1 run.
Once the game ended, it was an hour of sandwiches and stretching before getting warmed up for East Anchorage. Almost exactly two hours after the match ended against Wasilla, the Thunderbirds’ Precious Fagafaga served up the first ball of the match to JDHS.
East Anchorage defeated JDHS convincingly in the first set, but not in the second or third sets.
The Crimson Bears trailed just 17-16 in the second set, but the Thunderbirds went on a 8-1 run to go up 2-0.
The third set set up a similar situation, but this time, it was JDHS that led 17-16. But like the set previously, East Anchorage didn’t panic, finishing the set out strong by going on a 5-0 run to end the set and match.
Dzinich, who followed up her 21-kill morning with 12 kills, 11 digs and two aces against the Thunderbirds, teared up as the team formed a line for handshakes. It wasn’t losing that brought out the emotions in her, though.
“It was kinda a little bit of sadness like its the end of a journey,” said Dzinich, choking up again. “There’s no other team I’d rather have. They’re all my best friends and we had such a great time this year.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.