Anchorage — A double-elimination format debuts at the state high school volleyball championships this week, a change that will make for a long opening day and a potentially long and dramatic final day.
The format means that on Thursday's opening day at the Menard Center in Wasilla, there will be six matches instead of the usual four in both the Class 4A and Class 3A tournaments. The winners of the four first-round matches advance to a pair of winner's bracket games later Thursday.
The format also means that on Saturday's final day, an extra match could be required to determine a champion. Only one team in will be undefeated heading into the championship match, and if that team loses the championship match, an if-necessary match will be needed.
It's tempting to call the if-necessary match sudden death, but it's more like prolonged battle -- it's a single game to 30 points.
Last week's Cook Inlet Conference championships required an if-necessary match that ended with Dimond taking the crown by coming through the loser's bracket after a Friday semifinal loss to South. In the rematch with South, Dimond took the championship match in five sets and won the if-necessary match 30-23 -- all of which made for a long, tension-filled finale.
Dimond and defending state champion South are the favorites in the 4A tournament. Together, they've won the last seven state titles.
Also in the field is the last team from outside Anchorage to earn the 4A crown -- Juneau, the 2002 champion. Since 1972, only six teams from outside Anchorage have won titles.
Things are a little different in Class 3A. The defending champion is Mt. Edgecumbe of Sitka, and although Anchorage schools won three straight titles prior to last season (Grace Christian in 2010 and Anchorage Christian in 2008-09), non-Anchorage schools have prevailed 23 out 27 times since the Class 3A tournament began.
Grace Christian is the only Anchorage team in this year's 3A tournament and is the third seed out of the tough Southcentral Conference, joining No. 1 seed Valdez and No. 2 seed Nikiski.
The 3A field represents tremendous geographic diversity -- Barrow from the north, Nome from the west, Mt. Edgecumbe from southeast and Monroe from the Interior.