WASILLA — WASILLA -- When the powers that be voted to install a new double- elimination format into the state volleyball tournament, they couldn't have imagined a better finish than Saturday's Class 4A final between Dimond and South at the Menard Sports Complex.
Dimond prevailed to win its fourth state title in five years, coming out of the losers bracket to sweep defending champion South 25-16, 25-20, 25-22 and force an if-necessary set to 30 points for all the marbles.
The score was tied 14 times in that final set, with the lead changing hands nine times before Dimond pulled away for a 30-27 win.
"It was really fun, just to be back and forth every single point," Dimond's Leah Swiss said. "Either we got it or South got it and it was amazing to just play with a team for our last game and have so much fun like that."
While losing the match came with disappointment for South, the spirited play and the exciting nature of the finish eased the pain, South coach Judy Knecht said.
"It was incredible," she said.
The few hundred or so fans in attendance, a turnout that included a group of bare-chested guys in body paint in the Dimond cheering section, erupted with every point, creating a wild atmosphere.
Swiss, who finished with 29 kills and 22 digs, scored 13 kills in the if-necessary set, most of which were of the rocket-shot variety.
"We didn't have an answer for Leah Swiss, she was just on fire," Knecht said.
In a fitting punctuation to the dramatic evening, the final kill barely stayed in bounds, landing deep in the left corner of the South backcourt. Sierra Afoa pummeled the final cross-court shot with her left hand and started hugging her teammates when she saw it stayed in.
"Coach told me it was coming to me and I was so nervous," Afoa said. "It's a lot to comprehend right now."
Five of Dimond's previous seven kills came from Swiss as the Lynx came back from a 23-21 deficit with a 6-0 run to take a 27-23. They didn't trail again.
"We pretty much said, get (Swiss) the ball," Lauwers said. "She was amazing. She's one of the best hitters in the state."
Janelle Feller turned in 10 kills and 31 assists for Dimond, with Anastasia Lavern-Tosi dishing 32 assists. Tatyana Johnson chipped in 12 kills, Afoa finished with 10, and Aaliyah Lewis' 32 digs anchored the defense.
Morgan Hooe's 49 assists propelled a South offense that got 17 kills from Mikayla Sweet and 12 from Holly Morehouse. Shelby Little patrolled the net with eight blocks, and Christa Leader produced 12 digs.
Dimond's only two losses this season came against South and both came in semifinal matches in the season-ending, double-elimination tournaments. Dimond followed the same path to victory in last week's Cook Inlet Conference tournament, rebounding to win a championship match and an if-necessary set.
"At first I didn't like the double elimination going into regions, but after we lost to South in regions I began to love it," Swiss said. "It was to our benefit to have that double elimination, because we showed (up) today and put it all on the court."
Dimond and South have combined to win the last eight straight state titles, each winning four. Saturday's match was the third straight year the teams have met in the state final.
"Kim and I are both lucky to have schools that are kind of known for volleyball, and we get good talent," Knecht said. "However, next year a lot of these schools have really young teams. I think next year's state tournament is only going to get better."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.