The Kodiak High School volleyball team is using a William Shakespeare quote as their mantra for the 2017 season: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
“I think that really sums up my team,” said Kodiak coach Amy Willis, entering her 12th season on the Bears’ bench. “We were tiny last year, and we are tiny again.”
It might be hard to believe, but Kodiak is even more vertically challenged than last year’s squad that went 5-11 overall, 1-9 in Northern Lights Conference play.
While Colony — the squad Kodiak opens up with today (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (1:30 p.m.) at Kodiak High School — boasts three players over 6 feet tall, the Bears have nobody in that zip code. The average height of Kodiak’s 12 players is 64 inches, or 5 feet, 3 inches. Not a number that typically equates to success on the volleyball court.
The Bears look to prove that height doesn’t matter in a sport where tall girls roam the net.
“What we lack in size, we beat in speed,” said Willis, a former Kodiak and University of Alaska Anchorage star. “They are fast. If things go wrong they can quickly recoup and recover.”
Willis’ plan: Wear teams down.
Ruth Dela Cruz, Hallee Blair — Kodiak’s record-holder in the 300-meter hurdles — and Kyla Nocon will be at the center of their coach’s masterplan. Dela Cruz and Nocon are the only players returning from last year’s squad with significant varsity experience. Kodiak graduated six seniors last year, including NLC first-teamer Ryana Recustodio, now a freshman at Big Bend Community College in Oregon.
“Those tiny people are making the whole engine run,” Willis said.
Dela Cruz and Blair, a sophomore, are taking over setter duties from the graduated Kierra Murphy. Because her setters are versatile athletes, the coach is planning on doing something unusual in the word of volleyball; have them set out of the back row and hit from the front row.
Nocon will be used all over the court, as a blocker, attacker and setter.
“Our emphasis this year is training multiple people to do multiple things,” Willis said. “We run drills that require our middle hitters to be setters, or people who traditionally don’t have to pass have to pass. The idea is to raise the overall level of the entire program, so in a crisis scenario it is not foreign.”
Manning the middle will be Madeline Egdorf, Abi Coombs and Kathryn Carstens — Kodiak’s tallest player at 5-11. Egdorf and Carstens both played sparingly on varsity last year.
“She (Carstens) really matured over the summer,” Willis said. “I like what she has been able to do at the net. She has really found her power and stride.”
Kathleen Sofranes, Edlen Mangosing and Jesse Macariola will be Kodiak’s defensive specialist, while left-hander Katie Banks, Victoria Beaver and Tiana Faumui round out the varsity roster.
Kodiak only has four regular-season home matches this season — today and Saturday against Colony and Sept. 29-30 against Wasilla. The Bears, however, do host the Northern Lights Conference Championships the first week of November.
Kodiak, Soldotna, Kenai, Wasilla, Colony and Palmer will all by vying for the regional crown and one of the conference’s three spots to the state championships. This will be Kenai’s final season in the NLC, as the Kardinals are dropping from the 4A to the 3A classification in 2018.
Willis’ goal is to win a regional title in front of the home fans. The Bears have won two regional titles, the last coming in 2015. Kodiak went 0-2 at regions last year, which snapped its streak of five straight trips to the state tournament.
“I would like another regional victory. That is my goal,” Willis said. “I think that we could get the region. We are going to be better servers than anybody else and we are going to be tougher passers than anybody else. You can win with that, and defense a team to death.”
Sept. 1-2 — vs. Colony at KHS
Sept. 7 — at West Valley
Sept. 8-9 — at West Valley Tournament
Sept. 15-16 — at West Spiketacular at West Anchorage High School
Sept. 21 — at Kenai
Sept. 22 — at Soldotna
Sept. 23 — at Kenai and Soldotna
Sept. 29-30 — vs. Wasilla at KHS
Oct. 6-7 — at Grace Christian Tournament in Anchorage
Oct. 20-21 — at Dimond-Service Tournament in Anchorage
Oct. 27-28 — at Palmer
Nov. 2-4 — Northern Lights Conference Championships at KHS
Nov. 9-11 — 4A state championships in Anchorage.