When Hoonah High School volleyball players open state tournament competition today in Anchorage, they're going to make the court their home.
The Braves plan to sing Tlingit celebration songs when they huddle before their opening match against Ninilchik. It's something they started at last weekend's Southeast Class 2A tournament in Klawock - and Hoonah coach Howard Gray said the singing inspired the team on its run to a perfect tourney record and a fifth straight region title.
"(All season) I was thinking about what I wanted to do to make the girls feel all that more powerful," Gray said of the singing. "It really made them feel like a unit.
"When we go to state, we're going to stick to the same thing."
Hoonah opens the Class 1A-2A-3A (West) state tournament against Ninilchik at 5:30 p.m. today at Dimond High School. Southeast runner-up Skagway will face defending state champion Barrow at 2 p.m. in another first-round match.
In the mixed-six coed volleyball championship at Dimond, Southeast champion and sole representative Gustavus will open play against Unalakleet-Degnan at 2 p.m. today. Mixed-six volleyball is an option for small schools in Alaska who have trouble filling a traditional all-girls roster.
Hoonah is a Tlingit village, and Gray said he wanted to draw on that heritage to further unify his squad. He said the girls sing celebration songs that, in keeping with tradition, honor their fathers. Each girl takes a turn in the center of the huddle while she sings.
The Braves played inspired volleyball at the region tourney, led by seniors Cassandra Peters, Candy Keown and Kristi Skaflestad - who all made the all-Southeast team. Peters - who has been named to the all-state tourney team the past two seasons - won the region passing competition.
Hoonah has made the state tournament every year since 1997, and has reached the championship match five times over that span with one title, in 1998. The Braves don't have much scouting information on Ninilchik - a longtime basketball powerhouse - so they're going to focus on their own game.
"You can't take anything for granted," Gray said. "We're just going to go up there thinking that we have to fight and play our best. We're going up with our heads up, and no matter what happens we want to be satisfied with how we played, that we did our best."
While Hoonah is a state tourney regular, Skagway coach Becky Jensen said the state berth is her school's first since the early 1990s. Three Skagway players made the all-Southeast team - Savannah Ames, Audrey Neitzer and Candi Ketterman - and they'll lead the Panthers in the opening match against the defending champion Whalers.
For the complete eight-team state tourney bracket, look on the Web at www.asaa.org. The rest of the awards from last weekend's region tournament, along with past state volleyball champions, can be found on the Scoreboard, State and Southeast Class 2A.
Gustavus' volleyball players don't just represent their school - they virtually are the school.
Half of the high-school age students at Gustavus School play on the Foxes' volleyball team, which beat Yakutat last weekend to win a state tourney berth. Seniors Chris Trump and Madison Evans; juniors Elizabeth Barry, Aaron Kearns and Dustin Cozby; sophomore Jeff Gibson; and freshman Hannah Berry will represent Gustavus in Anchorage. The Foxes are coached by Rachel Parks and Tim Thomas.
The Foxes are making their third straight trip to the state tournament. They were two-and-out at last year's tourney, but extended each match to a full five games.
This season, Gustavus played teams from Angoon and Yakutat, as well as a Gustavus community squad and - in a new twist - a coed mix of prep players from Juneau. Gustavus played the Juneau team twice, once in Gustavus and once in Juneau, and Trump said it was good to see new competition.
"In Southeast, there are not many teams like us," Trump said. "When we got to play Juneau, it really helped out some of the new players, who haven't been to state."
The complete eight-team state tournament bracket can be found on the Web at www.asaa.org.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.