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ANCHORAGE - This year's Class 3A state volleyball tournament showed the disadvantage many Southeast teams face when they make the trip to state.
Petersburg and Craig, the two Region V-Class 3A representatives, were the first two teams eliminated from the tournament on Friday at West Anchorage High School. Both teams said their lack of travel outside the region - caused by limited travel budgets - played a big role in their losses.
The Region V-3A champion Petersburg Vikings fell 25-11, 25-18, 9-25, 25-21 to the Grace Christian School Grizzlies in an elimination match on Friday, while the region runner-up Craig Panthers were swept 25-19, 25-16, 25-11 by the Nikiski Bulldogs. The losses left the two Southeast teams tied for seventh place in the eight-team tournament. Valdez won its third straight Class 3A state title with a 25-11, 18-25, 25-15, 25-19 victory over Cordova.
The only non-region teams Petersburg saw this year came at the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza - which featured Class 4A Juneau-Douglas, Sitka, Ketchikan, Colony and Palmer, along with Cordova and several of the Southeast Class 3A teams. Craig didn't have even that luxury, since the Panthers didn't go to JIVE this year.
"We've only seen Petersburg," Craig junior setter Stacia Miller said of the teams at the Class 3A state tournament. "We were clueless."
"We didn't go anywhere," Craig coach Justna Cook said, adding that a couple of her players told here after watching Thursday's early first-round matches that the other teams were "just too good."
Craig hadn't been to state in two years and the only returning varsity player was junior outside hitter Jill May, who was a freshman on varsity when the Panthers last went to state.
"We're a very young team, and only one of us has been here before," Miller said. "We're not used to the competition. We just need a little more trust and a little more practice. We'll be good for next year."
The lack of familiarity with their opponents even affected Petersburg, which was making its third straight trip to the state tournament.
"We were scared," said Petersburg senior middle blocker Britni Birchell, the only Southeast player to make the all-tournament team. "That was what was nice about playing Cordova (a four-game loss on Thursday). We'd played them before."
"Southeast competition is not like this at all," Petersburg junior setter Amanda Versteeg said.
Even the opposing coaches acknowledged the disadvantage.
"It's a tremendous disadvantage," Nikiski coach Bruce King said. "For us to be able to come up (to Anchorage) and get in a tournament, it's a big help. We're a very young team, and we needed those tournaments to provide us with that mental edge."
In Grace's victory over Petersburg, the Vikings were flat through the first game and didn't catch fire until late in the second game, after they'd already trailed by 11 points three times in the game (16-5, 17-6 and 18-7). Petersburg rallied to close the margin to 22-18 before the Grizzlies closed out the second game, but the Vikings were able to carry their momentum through a lop-sided third-game victory.
But errors cost Petersburg the fourth game, as Grace only recorded nine legitimate points off attacks or ace serves in their victory. Four of Grace's first five points came on bad Petersburg serves, and it wasn't until Ashley Bylsma's kill gave Grace an 8-6 lead that the Grizzlies scored their first point off an attack.
"If we'd started from the beginning, instead of the second or third game, we might have won," Petersburg senior Anna McMurren said. "In those middle two games, we had an attitude of never give up. They were playing their best. But a lot of mistakes were made in the fourth game."
Ally Erving led Grace with 11 kills, while Katelyn Perry added eight kills and 10 blocks. Kari Wedemeyer was voted player of the match for Grace, but no stats were available for her.
Birchell led Petersburg with 13 kills and eight blocks, while Amanda Versteeg had four kills and three aces, Rikki Versteeg added four kills, Brenna McMahon recorded nine digs, Tessa Bergmann made six digs and McMurren added six digs and three aces. Amanda Versteeg was Petersburg's player of the match.
In Nikiski's victory over Craig, the two teams swapped points through a 6-6 tie before the Bulldogs went on a 12-2 run that gave them an 18-8 lead. The Panthers closed within 22-19, but Nikiski was able to close out the game. In the second game, Craig had leads of 4-0 and 7-6 and only trailed 13-11 when Nikiski went on a 10-2 run to take control of the game. The Bulldogs took a commanding 13-3 lead early in the third game and were never threatened.
No stats were available for Craig, but May was selected the Panthers' player of the match and joined Miller as the team's top two hitters. Georgie Heaverley was Nikiski's player of the match and had 11 digs and three aces, while Stacey Griffel had 10 digs and 19 assists.
Despite the losses, both Southeast teams were optimistic for the future. Petersburg loses three seniors - Birchell, McMurren and back-row specialist Shannon Caulum - while Craig had no seniors.
"I think we'll be back here next year," Miller said.
"We have some good freshmen coming up, some that are 5(-foot)-11 and 5-10," Versteeg said. "They'll give us a strong front row."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
CLASS 3A STATE TOURNAMENT
Results from the Class 3A state volleyball tournament, held Thursday through Saturday at West Anchorage High School.
Championship match - Valdez def. Cordova, 25-11, 18-25, 25-15, 25-19.
Third-fifth place match - Monroe Catholic School def. Seward, 25-17, 25-14, 22-25, 25-23.
Fourth-sixth place match - Grace Christian School def. Nikiski, 22-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-20.
Championship semifinals - Cordova def. Monroe Catholic, 26-24, 25-23, 24-26, 15-25, 16-14; Valdez def. Seward, 25-17, 25-16, 25-15.
Consolation semifinals (losers eliminated) - Grace Christian School def. Petersburg, 25-11, 25-18, 9-25, 25-21; Nikiski def. Craig, 25-19, 25-16, 25-11.
First-round matches - Cordova def. Petersburg, 25-19, 22-25, 26-24, 25-21; Monroe Catholic School def. Grace Christian School, 10-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 15-8; Valdez def. Nikiski, 25-10, 25-12, 25-14; Seward def. Craig, 25-17, 25-20, 25-15.
Team academic award - Cordova Wolverines, 3.75 team GPA.
Team sportsmanship award - Monroe Catholic School Rams.
All-tournament team - Britni Birchell, Petersburg; Lisa Steinbrecher, Seward; Brooke Wegner, Valdez; Ally Erving, Grace Christian School; Lynsey Adams, Cordova; Carolyn Berg, Monroe Catholic School; Katie Blackburn, Valdez; Amanda Kelly, Cordova; Shayla Moll, Grace Christian School; Hannah Thompson, Nikiski; Whitney Connor, Valdez; Leah Stepovich, Monroe Catholic School.
Southeast good-sport team members - Katrina Peavey and Ashley Ackerman, Craig; Sarah Aiken and Jill McIntosh, Petersburg.