Seventeen years ago, Kodiak captured its first volleyball conference championship.
There was plenty to celebrate Saturday when a Hannah Wandersee kill earned the Bears their second title, against Palmer at Soldotna High School.
“It was reassuring and crazy just knowing that it was finally over and we finally did it,” said Wandersee, who was later named the Northern Lights Conference’s most valuable player. “Winning regions was a big deal for us and what we wanted to accomplish, but then knowing that it took Kodiak all that long to do it was even better.”
Kodiak had to earn their Northern Lights Conference title the hard way.
After suffering their first conference loss of the season Friday to Palmer, the Bears persevered through a marathon Saturday to hoist the trophy.
Top-seeded Kodiak swept Colony (25-17, 25-19, 25-11) to set up a rematch with Palmer in the championship. The Bears won a tightly played best-of-5 match 25-21, 25-15. 21-25, 25-22 that forced an “if necessary” set to 30 points.
Kodiak went up by five midway through the sprint and never looked back, registering a 30-18 triumph.
“This was a test of their character. Yesterday’s (Friday) loss was really hard. We weren’t really prepared to lose. It was really the first time we had lost all season, so it kind of took us for a little bit of a spell,” Kodiak coach Amy Willis said. “It was a teachable moment and an opportunity to learn ... and we got on top of it. I’m just really proud of them. It could have really kept us in a dark place and they chose to raise their heads up and go forward and play hard for each other.”
Kodiak, Palmer and Colony all qualified for the state championships that begin Thursday in Anchorage. This is the Bears’ third straight state appearance, and they will open against the Cook Inlet Conference’s third seed.
Kodiak entered the NLC Championships with a perfect 10-0 region record, and after beating Colony to open the tournament Thursday, the Bears won the first two sets against Palmer Friday 25-21, 26-24. The second-seeded Moose then rallied to take the next three, 25-21, 25-15, 15-13, to hand Kodiak its first best-of-5 loss of the season.
“We were surprised and down, but we knew that we could get it back,” Wandersee said. “Friday when people made mistakes everyone would just get down, but today (Saturday) we all kept each other up and just tried to be positive and communicate with each other.
Kodiak did get it back, and won when it counted the most.
The Bears raced out to an 8-2 lead in the first set, but then watched as Palmer pulled to within 23-21. Kills by Kalamelia Matautia and Wandersee ended the set.
Leading 15-13 in the second set, Kodiak used a barrage of kills by Wandersee, Carissa Cannon and Megan Pyles for a set-ending 10-2 run.
After dropping the third set, Kodiak took a 19-9 lead in the fourth set. Palmer made things interesting by pulling to within two, 24-22, before a Pyles kill ended it to force the winner-take-all set to 30.
After four lead changes and three ties, a 5-0 run that put Kodiak up 27-18. Palmer closed to 27-22, but an error and kills by Matautia and Wandersee gave Kodiak its first conference title since 1996.
“Once you start down that 30-point train it goes pretty fast,” Willis said. “I wasn’t really obsessing about the outcome, I just wanted them to play the best that they could, and today (Saturday) they really did. They worked hard together, they talked each other up and kept each other focused on playing great ball.”
Willis, who was also the coach the last time Kodiak won a region title, was named the conference’s coach of the year.
Summer McKechnie and Pyles were named to the all-conference first team, while Cannon and Isabelle Riina earned second-team honors. Erica Rodas was Kodiak’s representative on the good sport team.
Wandersee was recognized as the conference’s most valuable player.
“It was kind of surprising,” Wandersee said. “It just added to the happiness of winning regions.”
Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at email@example.com.
Coach of the Year — Amy Willis, Kodiak.
Player of Year — Hannah Wandersee, Kodiak.
First team — Cassidy Giese, Palmer; Summer McKechnie, Kodiak; Justice English, Kenai; Katelynn Kerkvliet, Soldotna; Elliot Perkins, Palmer; Ashley Turcotte, Colony; Megan Pyles, Kodiak; Julie Litchfield, Soldotna; Macey Buresh, Palmer.
Second team — Ashlyn Dorn, Wasilla; Chelsea Friesen, Colony; Mariah McNamara, Palmer; Amber Sizemore, Wasilla; Makayla Wong, Soldotna; Isabelle Riina, Kodiak; Aimee Bushnell, Wasilla; Carissa Cannon, Kodiak.
Good sport team — Brooke Nezaticky, Colony; Falon McGahan, Kenai; Erica Rodas, Kodiak; Malena Showalter, Palmer; Katelyn Earll, Soldotna; Aimee Bushnell, Wasilla.