For the past three months, Kodiak’s volleyball team has romped through the Northern Lights Conference.
Carissa Cannon isn’t ordering her conference championship shirt just yet.
“I’m pretty nervous,” the senior said. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
Kodiak enters today’s NLC Championship tournament as the top seed after racking up a perfect 10-0 record during the regular season. The Bears will face either Colony or Wasilla in a 6 p.m. semifinal match at Soldotna High School.
This is the first No. 1 seed in program history and, barring a devastating loss, the players are on the verge of hoisting the championship trophy for the first time since Amy Willis led the school to its only title in 1996.
“It is weird to think that it has only happened one time,” said Cannon, who was born in 1996. “It is a big accomplishment for the program. We have put in so much work and effort.”
There is a reason for Cannon’s nervousness. She was part of the fourth-seeded Kodiak team that upset top-seeded Palmer on the opening day of last year’s tournament. She doesn’t want history to repeat itself, and judging by the Bears’ resume, it shouldn’t.
Out of Kodiak’s 10 victories, eight were sweeps and none went five sets. Only Palmer and Soldotna were able to steal a set from veteran-laden Kodiak, and out of 32 conference sets, the opposition scored more than 20 points only four times.
There is no looking past the stats; Kodiak was the dominant team during the regular season.
“We are feeling confident, and I think the rest of the region is also feeling really confident that we are going to be the champions,” Willis said.
Kodiak has had chances before. Two years ago, the Bears fell to Palmer in the championship match, and in 1998 the team was second to Colony. Willis coached both teams.
“We have had other teams that were totally capable of winning our conference, but for whatever reason it just didn’t happen,” she said. “We have athletes and the stars are aligned in our favor.”
Teams have had difficulty containing Kodiak’s powerful offense, as five girls have the potential to have a 10-kill match, while the Bears’ defense limits big scoring runs.
“I knew we were going to be good, but I didn’t know how good,” Cannon said. “But know I see that we have a really good chance.”
Winning a regional title was a goal the team set at the beginning of the season, while the team’s other goal is winning the school’s first state volleyball title.
“They are special because they are working really hard at this goal,” Willis said. “They are committed to doing what it takes and it is something that they all want.”
Willis knows teams are simply not going to hand Kodiak the title.
Second-seeded Palmer (8-2) and third-seeded Soldotna (5-5) both have aspirations of knocking the Bears off. Both those teams are on the other side of the bracket and would not meet Kodiak until Friday.
The Bears will draw Colony (4-6) or Wasilla (2-8) in a winner-to-state semifinal match tonight. Those two teams split the two regular-season matches against each other.
Palmer plays either Soldotna or sixth-seeded Kenai (1-9) in the other semifinal at 8 p.m. The semifinal winners advance to Friday’s winners’ bracket championship match, while the loser will have to battle through the consolation bracket to get back to Saturday’s championship match at 1 p.m. An “if necessary” set to 30 will be played if it is the loser’s first loss.
The top three teams advance to the state championships on Nov. 14 in Anchorage. Kodiak is searching for its program-best third straight state appearance.
“Palmer is probably our truest competition,” Willis said. “They are very smartly coached and have talented athletes … it will be important for us to go in working hard and with some humility to not underestimate what other teams are going to bring against us.”
Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at email@example.com.
Game 1 — No. 4 Colony (4-6) vs. No. 5 Wasilla (2-8), 1 p.m.
Game 2 — No. 3 Soldotna (5-5) vs. No. 6 Kenai (1-9), 3 p.m.
Game 3 — No. 1 Kodiak (10-0) vs. Game 1 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 4 — No. 2 Palmer (8-2) vs. Game 2 winner, 8 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 11 a.m. (loser out)
Game 6 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m. (loser out)
Game 7 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 8 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner (loser out), 7 p.m.
Game 9 — Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 10 a.m. (loser out)
Game 10 — Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m. (championship)
Game 11 — If necessary match, 3 p.m.