Over the past six seasons, Hoonah has boasted the most consistently successful small-schools volleyball program in the state.
The Braves have made the state finals five times since 1997. But only once - in 1998 - did they win the title. This season Hoonah strengthened its schedule, cracked down on mistakes and enters the Class 1A-2A-3A (West) state tourney with confidence that it can break its Buffalo Bills-like streak and regain the top prize.
"We're tired of taking second place," Braves coach Julie Jackson said.
"This is probably our best team," senior Andria Skaflestad said. "Our chance to get it is this year."
Region V champion Hoonah opens state play at 6:30 p.m. tonight against Kenny Lake at Dimond High School in Anchorage. If the Braves win, they'll play again at 4:45 p.m. Friday against the winner of today's Barrow-Tok match.
Region V runner-up Klawock opens play on the other side of the eight-team bracket against Dillingham at 3 p.m. today. If the Chieftains win, they'll play at 3 p.m. Friday against the winner of today's match between Ninilchik and Nome-Beltz.
The state championship match is at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. Last year, Hoonah took a 2-0 lead in the best three-of-five-game state final before the Seldovia-English Sea Otters rallied for a 6-15, 10-15, 15-9, 15-10, 15-7 victory.
Going into this season - with a shift to the new rally scoring system - Jackson made it a priority to play error-free volleyball. Under rally scoring, if a team makes a mistake, the other team earns a point.
Jackson also worked to get Hoonah into matches against larger schools. The Braves went undefeated in the opening rounds of Sitka's Small Schools Tournament in October before falling to a Juneau-Douglas High School squad in the finals. A few weeks later, Hoonah beat a Juneau varsity/JV mixed squad to win the All-Comers tourney in Ketchikan.
"It put pressure on us, and now we know we can work under it," senior Amy Wright said of playing Class 4A schools like Juneau-Douglas, Sitka and Ketchikan.
The Braves have been practicing two hours a day, six days a week to prepare for a run at the state title.
"We feel pretty good, pretty confident," Jackson said. "We've played some pretty tough teams."
But, she added, "we're going to take one game at a time."
Mixed-six state tournament
When the Gustavus mixed-six coed volleyball squad opens the state tournament against Marshall this morning, the Foxes will be playing just their second opponent of the season.
Mixed-six volleyball is an option for small schools who have trouble filling a traditional all-girls roster. In Southeast, Gustavus, Angoon and Yakutat play in the format, though Angoon was unable to field a team this season.
That left Yakutat as Gustavus' only opponent for the regular season, and the Foxes won the season series to earn a return trip to state.
"I feel really good about this year," Gustavus coach Rachel Parks said. "But (state) is always a good test, since they haven't played many games in Southeast."
Last year Gustavus lost in the opening round to Marshall. This year, Gustavus coach Rachel Parks thinks the Foxes can use their previous state experience to make a run in the tourney.
Gustavus also has a large roster. Fourteen students - all but a couple of Gustavus' high school population - have played for the Foxes this season, up from eight a year ago.
"It's amazing how well they work together, not to mention the fact that they've stuck with it even though they haven't had many teams to play," Parks said of her team.
If the Foxes win in the first round, they will play at 6:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of today's Port Lions-Galena match. The championship match is at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The other teams at the tourney are Shishmaref, Selawik, Mountain Village and Kwethluk.
Gustavus' roster includes senior Halley Post; juniors Madison Evans, Stephanie Graham, Samantha Hilton, David Kunat, Jessica Post, Elm Robichaud and Chris Trump; sophomore Jeff Gibson; and freshmen Dustin Cozby, Bill Graham, Aaron Kearns, Monica Kunat and Neva Shafer.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.