Throughout their prep careers, players on this year's Hoonah High School volleyball team have known just one way to end the Southeast season - as region champions.
The Braves will try to add to that stellar record as they compete for their fifth straight Southeast Class 2A title today and Saturday in Klawock.
Hoonah will be joined by Skagway, Kake, Klawock and Thorne Bay at the Class 2A tournament. The top two teams will earn berths to next week's small-schools state tournament in Anchorage.
While the Braves have had some trouble reaching the pinnacle at the state tourney - they were third last year, and second in each of the three years before that - Hoonah has been dominant in the region for years. The Braves did win a state title in 1998.
At last year's region tournament, the Braves went undefeated and beat Klawock in the championship match. This season, Hoonah went 4-0 in Class 2A matches at an October tourney in Skagway. Their last competition was Oct. 29-30 at the All-Comers Tournament in Juneau, where they went 12-5 in games, many against much larger schools.
"We have two great outside hitters in Cassandra Peters and Kristi Skaflestad, and we have (a pair of) strong setters from last year as well" in Candy Keown and Jessica Skaflestad, Hoonah coach Howard Gray said. "Those four bring a lot of experience and depth to the starting lineup."
Peters, Keown and Kristi Skaflestad are seniors; Jessica Skaflestad is a sophomore.
Gray took over the team this season from longtime coach Julie Jackson after spending several years as an assistant coach. Gray said he has incorporated much of what he learned from Jackson, along with emphasizing some new aspects of the game - like being vocal.
"We've been really working on communication," he said. "It just makes the team jell more."
Due to time and travel constraints, Hoonah - and Skagway - missed several regular-season region matches at Thorne Bay this week, meaning they'll have a few forfeit losses and likely will be seeded in the middle of the region tourney field. Gray said his team is anxious to get back to competition after the long layoff.
"We're feeling very, very strong mentally, and physically we're at our best," he said. "We're going to bring our best and hopefully come out on top."
Skagway - like Hoonah - has been battling to stay focused during a long stretch without games. The Panthers' last official competition was at the All-Comers Tournament, though they have scrimmaged local women and played a tough team from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, in the interim.
Coach Becky Jensen said outside hitter Savannah Ames and setter Audrey Neitzer - who won last year's region passing competition - have led the team this season.
"They're the strength that hold us together," Jensen said. "They (provide) a lot of guidance for the younger players."
Skagway went 3-1 at the tourney they hosted in October. They beat Kake, Klawock and Thorne Bay, but lost to Hoonah.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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