ANCHORAGE - When most Southeast Class 3A teams head to the state volleyball tournament, they're usually the great unknowns.
Most Southeast schools have limited travel budgets, so few teams outside Region V see them during the regular season. That's why the Cordova Wolverines started booking regular trips to the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza in recent years.
The JIVE trips paid off for Cordova, as the Wolverines beat the known-commodity Petersburg Vikings 25-19, 22-25, 26-24, 25-21 in Thursday's opening round of the state tournament at West Anchorage High School.
Cordova coach John Harding said the scouting trips had a lot to do with the Wolverines' success. While he could take his team to some of the bigger Anchorage tournaments, Harding said he likes knowing he'll see most of the Southeast Class 3A teams in Juneau.
"It costs us the same to go to Juneau as it does to Anchorage," Harding said. "That's one reason I like going to Juneau. It seems like we see someone from Southeast every year at state, and the last three years we've faced a Southeast team in the first round. I knew I'd play all the Southeast 3A schools in Juneau, and if we come to an Anchorage tournament we might wind up playing all 4A schools."
The first game was close until Cordova, last year's state runner-up, broke a 17-17 tie and pulled ahead. Petersburg won the second game, and in the third game the Vikings rallied from a 23-22 deficit to take a 24-23 lead before Cordova won the game. Cordova led much of the fourth game, but it was close the whole way.
"We split there (in JIVE pool play) and both teams were in the 20s in each game," Harding said. "Petersburg played a lot better than they did down there."
Setter Kristina Maxwell was named player of the match for Cordova, while middle blocker Britni Birchell won player-of-the-match honors for Petersburg. No stats were available.
While the Vikings were disappointed in their loss, they still feel good about their chances to improve upon last year's tie for seventh place at state. They thought they might have been able to turn the match had they won the third game, or rallied in the fourth.
"It would have helped our spirit," sophomore utility player Brenna McMahon said. "We needed to get pumped up."
"I think we played OK," sophomore utility player McKenzie Curtiss added. "I think we have a chance (at fourth place) if we play like we can."
The Petersburg players said their main failing on Thursday came on defense.
"It was our serve receive," Curtiss said.
"We didn't cover, especially on our blocking," McMahon added.
Cordova will play Monroe Catholic in today's 6 p.m. semifinal, while Petersburg will play Grace Christian at 2 p.m. in an elimination match. Monroe rallied from a two-game deficit to beat Grace 21-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 15-8 on Thursday.
The two-time defending champion Valdez Buccaneers opened their title defense with a 25-10, 25-11, 25-14 sweep of the Nikiski Bulldogs. Valdez will play Seward in today's 8 p.m. semifinal. Seward swept the Craig Panthers 25-17, 25-20, 25-15 in the final Class 3A match on Thursday. Nikiski and Craig will play at 4 p.m. today in an elimination match.
Seward Seahawks 3, Craig Panthers 0
In the first game, the Seahawks only led 16-13 before going on an 8-0 run that made it 24-13. Craig rallied late, but Seward closed out the game on a kill by Amy Reierson.
Seward jumped out to a big lead in the second game, but Craig rallied to close within 18-14. Seward took a 21-14 lead, but the Panthers pulled within 22-18 before the Seahawks closed out the game with a kill by Lisa Steinbrecher.
Errors played a big role in the early part of the third game, as Seward served two straight into the net while Craig had problems passing. It was 9-6 Seward when the Seahawks went on a brief run to take a 16-8 lead. The Panthers closed the gap to 17-12, but Seward went on another run for a 21-12 lead, then closed out the match with an ace by Lara Loomis.
The Panthers, who have no seniors on their nine-player roster, said their inexperience played a role in the loss.
"We were all pretty nervous," said junior outside hitter Jill May, the only Craig player who went to state two years ago; the Panthers didn't qualify last year. "It was just experience. It takes awhile to get warmed up."
"Teams like that are tough to play," said Seward coach Angie Hammer, who's had her team at state for 11 straight years. "They dig everything up."
Outside hitter Kristin Beck was player of the match for Seward, while setter Stacia Miller earned player-of-the-match honors for Craig.
Beck led Seward with eight kills, while Steinbrecher added seven. Loomis had eight blocks and two aces. No stats were available for Craig.