Anchorage — If the Dimond Lynx were stressed out about their first volleyball loss of the season, it sure didn’t show.
One night after hopes for an undefeated season were spoiled by a five-set loss to South, the Lynx roared back to beat the Wolverines not once but twice Saturday to waltz away with the Cook Inlet Conference championship.
Staying loose by dancing together before the match and during breaks, the Lynx were all business on the court, beating South 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-25, 15-13 in the championship match to force a second showdown with the Wolverines in the double-elimination tournament at Service High.
In the second meeting, a single set played to 30 points, Dimond dominated 30-23.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Dimond coach Kim Lauwers said. “South challenged us (Friday) night and we didn’t step up for that as well as we could have. It was probably a good thing we lost, because it made the girls buckle down.”
Leah Swiss pounded 35 kills and Aaliyah Lewis racked up 59 digs to lead the Lynx, who never looked like a team under pressure.
“We didn’t have pressure,” Swiss said. “We just went out to play our game. We told ourselves to stay together no matter what.”
They chased away nerves and tension by dancing the night away. After disposing of East in three sets earlier Saturday to earn another shot at South, players spent part of their warmup doing choreographed dance moves to music. After beating South in the first championship match, they spent the five-minute break before the if-necessary match by dancing some more — and by watching Jan Pendleton, the sister of Dimond’s Bobbye Pendleton, perform a lively impromptu dance that had Dimond’s student section cheering.
“We had to relax somehow,” said senior Sierra Afoa, who had 10 kills. “We figured thinking about the next game too much wasn’t good.”
Afoa is part of a senior-dominated Dimond team, and South coach Judy Knecht thought all that experience made a difference in a high-stakes match.
“They have 10 seniors and I have four sophomores,” she said. “And they’re picked to win, and I agree. Not that I don’t think we can beat them, but experience is a big part of volleyball.”
South showed on Friday that it can be the Lynx — the Wolverines took a 23-25, 25-19, 25-22, 23-25, 15-10 win to advance to the title match and send Dimond into the loser’s bracket. There, Dimond beat East 25-13, 27-25, 25-11 on Saturday afternoon to set up a rematch with South.
For most of the title match and the if-necessary match, Dimond looked sharper and had more success running its attack. South’s block — spearheaded by Mikayla Sweet and Caitlin Sweeney — gave the Lynx some trouble, but with Lewis ruling the backcourt and Swiss dominating the net, they managed to prevail.
“Aaliyah Lewis, she touches everything,” Knecht said. “When she digs the ball, she digs it to the proper person.”
Swiss added 19 digs, Janell Feller chipped in 13 kills and 34 assists and Anastasia Lavern-Tosi added 39 assists for the Lynx.
South got a big match from senior setter Morgan Hooe, who handed out 55 assists and amassed a handful of kills, some of them on dumps. Mikayla Sweet had 17 kills and was part of a sometimes stifling block — she was in on seven blocks and Caitlin Sweeney had eight.
Sweeney is one of three middle hitters for the Wolverines, all of them sophomores. She and Claire Lacey were C team players last season and Shelby Little played JV and some varsity.
“You have to grow up quick,” Knecht said.
With the state tournament beginning Thursday in Wasilla, Knecht said she hopes her team reacts to Saturday’s setback the way Dimond reacted after its Friday defeat.
“I’m hoping this loss right here will be to our advantage,” she said.
Lauwers said the Lynx withstood the loss by sticking together and not panicking.
“South’s a great team, so you can’t get upset that they’re scoring points,” she said. “There’s no use screaming and yelling and arguing. It’s not gonna help to stress — that not my style.”
At any rate, the Lynx don’t have time to scream or argue. They’re too busy dancing when they aren’t winning volleyball matches. It happens almost every time they hear music, Lauwers said.
“I feel like sometimes I have a dance team instead of a volleyball team,” she said.
East 3, Chugiak 0
The East Thunderbirds swept Chugiak to claim third place in the CIC volleyball tournament and earn a spot in the state tournament.
By beating the Mustangs 25-20, 25-23, 25-23, East earned the conference’s third seed at the tournament that begins Thursday in Wasilla.
The CIC sends its top three teams to state, and in the two previous seasons, East lost the third-place match and had to stay home.
“We were fourth the last two years,” said coach Jim Dooley, who said finishing in the top three of the CIC — which routinely dominates the state tournament — is no easy trick.
“You can be the fourth-place team in the region and be the fifth or sixth best team in the state,” he said.
Taria Page led the T-birds with 15 kills and 10 digs, and Morgan Hill added 11 kills and 21 assists. Chugiak was led by 11 kills from Rachel Gregg and nine digs from Bailee Hughes, who shined for the Mustangs on serve receive.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.