ANCHORAGE -- The Petersburg Vikings are notorius for their slow starts in high school volleyball tournaments this season, usually finding a way to win the tourney by coming back through the losers' bracket or winning as the second-seeded team.
After Thursday morning's five-game loss to the Delta Junction Huskies in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament at West Anchorage High School, the Vikings finally suffered the consequences of their slow starts. Now Petersburg won't be able to win a state title. The best Petersburg can do is claim fourth place.
"This was the one we needed to win," Petersburg coach Tamra Wear said after Petersburg's 15-10, 8-15, 15-3, 10-15, 15-5 loss to the Huskies.
The Craig Panthers, the only other Southeast team in the Class 3A tournament, also lost its first-round match, getting swept by the defending champion Nikiski Bulldogs 15-4, 15-4, 15-8. In Thursday's other opening-round matches, Seward beat Cordova in five games, 15-2, 13-15, 15-11, 13-15, 15-11, while Valdez swept Heritage Christian in three games, 15-2, 15-1, 15-6.
The Vikings will play Cordova in today's 11:30 p.m. consolation bracket match, while the Panthers will play Heritage at 1:15 p.m. in the other consolation match. The losers of the two consolation matches are eliminated from the tournament, while the winners will play at 9 a.m. Saturday morning in the fourth-sixth place match.
Delta Junction and Seward play at 6:30 p.m. tonight in one semifinal, while Valdez and Nikiski play at 8:15 p.m. in the other. The winners play in Saturday's 5 p.m. championship match, while the semifinal losers play in the third-fifth place match at 12:30 p.m.
The Vikings dropped the first game against Delta on Thursday, but rallied to break a 7-7 tie and win the second game. But Petersburg's passing fell apart in the third game and the Vikings let unforced errors give Delta leads of 7-0 and 13-1 before the Huskies won the game. Delta jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the fourth game before Petersburg rallied to force a fifth game. Petersburg led 4-3 in the final game, but its passing fell apart again and so did the Vikings' offense as Delta went on a 12-1 run to close out the match.
"We're pretty disappointed," Petersburg senior setter Sarah Caulum said. "It was more stuff on our side (of the net) that hurt us. Our mistakes brought us down and our passing wasn't there."
"I think everyone was really nervous and the floor was slippery," said Petersburg senior setter Ana Enge, who added that none of the current Vikings had been on the team when it made its last trip to state, a second-place finish in 1998.
Delta, which won the state title in 1997, has been a regular state participant over the years, and that experience showed even though coach Janine Todd said the team wasn't at the top of its game Thursday.
Amy Sorenson led Delta with 16 kills, while Corey Sloan added 13 kills, Alma John had seven kills, Jenni Dewar made 32 assists, Staci Blum had three solo blocks and Jamie Glover was 12-for-12 serving.
Enge led Petersburg with 11 digs and 13 assists, while Anna McMurren had eight kills and 19 digs, Caulum added 12 assists, Brandy Cole notched five kills and Brita Lyons made 22 digs.
In Nikiski's victory over Craig, the Panthers never got things going as they appeared to be intimidated by the defending champions.
Craig took 2-0 leads in the first two games, only to have Nikiski come storming back with 15-2 runs. In the third game, even though Nikiski took leads of 7-2 and 9-5, Craig finally came back to close within 11-8 before Nikiski closed out the match.
"It usually takes us a game to get warmed up, and sometimes it's too late," Craig outside hitter Heather Douville said, adding that the Panthers had jitters even though this was their third straight trip to state. "We're still nervous because we've got a lot of new girls. Now that we've played we've got the jitters out."
"That last game was better, but we still didn't play our best," Craig coach Justna Cook said. "We were just nervous, I think from watching them hit in warmups. One of our setters didn't get to go to regions (because of grades), so we had to junk our offense and put in a new one the week of the tournament."
Individual stats weren't available for the Nikiski-Craig match.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.