Kodiak’s volleyball season was a roller-coaster ride, filled with ups and downs and swaying emotions.
The Bears’ elimination match against Soldotna on Friday at the Northern Lights Conference Championships was a microcosm of their year, featuring heartbreak and excitement.
The excitement: Kodiak rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth-set tiebreaker.
The heartbreak: For the second time in as many days in the tournament, the final set went the other way, with Soldotna stealing a 25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 23-25, 15-9 victory at Kodiak HIgh School.
The defeat closed Kodiak’s season with a 3-9 record and a fifth-place showing at the regional tournament.
However, everybody on the Bears’ side knew they were only a few points away from a podium finish and a trip to the state tournament.
The Bears fell in five sets to Palmer in Thursday’s opening-round match, while Soldotna made it all the way to the championship game where it lost to Colony in five. Wasilla finished third to clinch the final berth to the state tournament.
“It was such a powerful testament to what could have happened without injury and illness and some of the things that we went through this year,” Kodiak coach Amy Willis said. “We just were not able to provide a lot of opportunity to have the girls performing their role ... if they can come out and play like they did Thursday and Friday it makes us a little wistful, a little sad about what could have been if we were able to have a season of that.”
Willis did everything she could to extend her team’s season. She was the ultimate cheerleader, leading her team from a 2-0 deficit with emotion that few coaches display. She dropped to her knees and extended both arms into the air when Kodiak polished off a thrilling fourth set to force the 15-point fifth set.
“You cannot have a good time when your team is playing to their potential in front of 400 of their greatest fans,” she said.
In Thursday’s fifth set against Palmer, Kodiak was tentative and made the safe play. That wasn’t the case in Friday’s deciding set.
Three kills — two from Ruth Dela Cruz and another from Kathryn Carstens — put Kodiak up 3-1.
Soldotna then used a 5-0 run to jump in front 6-3. Kodiak stayed close and tied it at 9 on a Hallee Blair kill and a Madelaine Egdorf service ace.
The Stars then silenced the upset-thirsty crowd with a 6-0 run that closed out the match — the Bears gave away four points with either hitting errors or balls that sailed deep.
Kodiak went the entire season without playing a five-set match and played two in back-to-back days. Willis said it was a new situation for her team.
“I think if that set had been to 25, we probably could have rallied,” she said.
Soldotna coach Shelia Kupferschmid gave Kodiak credit for pushing her team to the limit after it appeared a sweep was imminent.
“They had their atmosphere and they had their home court, but they are a very good defensive team ... they are one of the scrappiest teams I have seen,” Kupferschmid said. “Amy does a great job with them.”
Soldotna leaned on Aliaan Schmidt, and she delivered with 16 kills and 11 blocks. Bailey Leach added eight kills, while Cally Christianson distributed 36 assists.
Dela Cruz, a senior, filled the statistical sheet in her final game, producing 18 digs, 15 assists, eight kills and five aces.
Junior Kyla Nocon recorded a team-high 39 digs from the libero position, while also logging six kills.
Tied at 20 in set three, Kodiak finished on a 5-1 run to extend the match.
Soldotna led the fourth set 23-21, but a hitting error and a Dela Cruz kill tied it at 23.
Kodiak grabbed the lead on a Soldotna error and won it on a Blair ace that peppered the back left corner and triggered a volcanic eruption on the Bears’ sideline.
Unfortunately, the cheering turned to teary eyes as nearly 20 minutes later Kodiak’s season ended.
Palmer 3, Kenai 1 (25-10, 24-26, 25-13, 25-7)
Soldotna 3, Kodiak 2 (25-22, 25-19, 21-25, 23-25, 15-9)
Colony 3, Wasilla 0 (26-24, 25-23, 25-17)
Soldotna 3, Palmer 1 (20-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-18)
Soldotna 3, Wasilla 1 (18-25, 25-20, 26-24, 25-18)
Colony 3, Soldotna 2 (25-23, 10-25, 25-15, 16-25, 15-11)