Kodiak’s historic volleyball season came up just short of the ultimate prize.
Being the third best 4A team in the state is a pretty nice consolation prize.
“I’m so proud of them,” Kodiak coach Amy Willis said. “They put in all the time and energy and were rewarded. Third in state is such a great accomplishment.”
The Bears’ dream of winning the school’s first volleyball state title were shattered in a 25-21, 11-25, 25-15, 25-16 loss to Dimond in a loser-out match Saturday in the 4A state volleyball championships at Chugiak High School.
The loss ended Kodiak’s remarkable run one game shy of the championship match. The third-place finish matches the school’s best showing at a state tournament. The 1996 Willis-led team also finished third.
The Bears had state championship aspirations after finishing the regular season a perfect 10-0 and winning the program’s first Northern Lights Conference title since 1998. In the end, Kodiak was left watching South Anchorage celebrate a victory over Dimond — two teams the Bears beat this season — in the championship match.
Kodiak, a school of just under 800 students, gave South Anchorage and Dimond, both double the size of Kodiak, all they could handle not only during the tournament, but throughout the entire season.
“They really worked hard,” Willis said. “I think they really impressed a lot of people here in the big world with what they could do in volleyball against bigger schools.”
After being swept in three intense games by South Anchorage in Thursday’s quarterfinals, Kodiak stayed alive with sweeps of Colony (25-18, 25-20, 25-17) and Chugiak (25-22, 25-18, 25-25-22) to earn a shot at Dimond, a team they went 1-2 against during the regular season.
The Bears supplied some magical moments against Dimond, but not enough to knock off the Cook Inlet Conference champions for the second time this season.
Fueled by several Hannah Wandersee power shots, Kodiak erased a late seven-point deficit to pull to within 21-20. Dimond halted the comeback with four of the next five points to take the first set.
Momentum shifted to Kodiak in the second, as the Bears raced out to a 6-1 lead and won by 14 points.
“The second set Dimond really let down and our girls took charge … the girls just wanted to get in there and play hard,” Willis said.
Dimond All-American Leah Swiss took over the final two sets. The senior peppered the court with kills, and Kodiak was never able to get into an offensive rhythm.
The Lynx opened the final set with a 7-1 run and the Bears were unable to narrow the gap.
“She is really an amazing athlete and hard to shutdown,” Willis said. “She was a girl on fire and they just kept feeding it to her. We made a few more mistakes in three and four than we wanted to.”
Kodiak’s three state wins equal its combined total from its previous five state tournament appearances. The Bears’ opening-round victory against Chugiak Thursday snapped an eight-match losing streak at state. Kodiak beat Chugiak again on Saturday and a downed NLC rival Colony Friday.
Kodiak’s seven seniors — Wandersee, Carissa Cannon, Megan Pyles, Erika Fallorin, Summer McKechnie, Jerica Nelson and Erica Rodas — didn’t go out on top, but did produce the school’s best volleyball season in more than a decade.
Willis noted that several school records were broken, while Wandersee was voted the most outstanding server and Isabelle Riina the best defensive player during the tournament. They both were named to the all-tournament team.
“They left a huge mark in the program where future volleyball athletes are going to understand the kind of work and dedication and the time it takes to reach this level of volleyball,” Willis said. “Hopefully they are in inspiration for those that come after them.”
Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at firstname.lastname@example.org.