From her nasty serves to her vicious spikes to her ability to improvise in awkward situations, Heather Green was a major force in Grace Christian's victory in the Class 3A state volleyball championship match Saturday at Chugiak High. And the rest of the Grizzlies were undeniably impressive as well.
Grace swept Mt. Edgecumbe 27-25, 25-14, 25-21 in the fourth straight state title match between the two teams. Mt. Edgecumbe, a boarding school in Sitka, won the title in 2012 and 2011 and Grace won it in 2010, when Green was a freshman.
"It doesn't seem real," Green said. "It's been four years in a row playing the exact same team, sometimes in the exact same situation. We came in here and knew we had to fight."
Green, a senior who will play for Cornerstone University next season, finished with 28 kills, a .455 hitting percentage, 21 digs and four aces. Setting her up for a lot of those kills was senior setter and player of the match Felicity Roe, who dished 40 assists.
The key to victory may have been in the strategy, said Grace junior Natalie Moore, who notched 18 digs and four kills. Grace coach Valerie Steele implemented unique strategies for each team the Grizzlies faced in the tournament, Moore said, and the game plan against the Braves, which included defending Mt. Edgecumbe's Taryn White, worked to perfection.
"We had to make sure we a put up a big block for Taryn and that worked so well," Moore said.
At times the match was a high-flying hitting contest between Green and White, Mt. Edgecumbe's star junior outside hitter. As violent spikes crashed to the floor, fans from both schools rattled the bleachers so hard it may have registered on the Richter scale.
Mt. Edgecumbe, which got 24 assists and six kills from Kathy Holly and seven digs from Renatta Olson, led 14-9 in the third set, but the comeback fell short because of too many mistakes, said coach Richard Calkins.
"We had a few little lulls, but that's sports," he said. "We asked the girls to battle and they battled. We're very proud of the way they competed."
Calkins, 52, had to battle his emotions as his 12th and final season at the helm came to a close -- he plans to retire from teaching and coaching at the end of the school year. After the Braves beat Skyview in an afternoon match to earn a spot in the final, Calkins said the emotions started to hit him and he a hard time talking to his team.
"It's been a good run," said Calkins, who lead teams into six state championship matches in 12 seasons. "The thing I'll miss most is the friendships that I see these girls develop. It's incredible."
There are no seniors on the Mt. Edgecumbe roster this season, so Calkins is confident the team will continue to compete at a high level.
The way the first set started Saturday, it looked like the match might be a barnburner. Grace raced to a 4-0 lead, only to have the Braves fight back to lead 6-5. The set continued to go back and forth, with ties at 22-22, 23-23, 24-24 and 25-25. Grace took a 26-25 lead on an ace from Green and won the set on a hitting error by Mt. Edgecumbe.
After cruising through the second set, the Grizzlies got off to a tough start in the third. They trailed 19-18, but closed strong -- a trait they have displayed all season, Steele said.
"They've been down in a lot of games and come back and won," she said. "One of things we worked hard on this year was to always be uplifting and kind to each other, and I think they really achieved it. That's one of the things I'm most proud about."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
ASAA/First National Bank
State volleyball tournament
Championship Grace 3, Mt. Edgecumbe 0 (27-25, 25-14, 25-21)
Mt. Edgecumbe 3, Skyview 1 (25-21, 25-21, 20-25, 25-20)
Skyview 3, Hutchison 1 (27-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-17)
Heather Green, Grace Christian
Emily Pfister, Monroe
Taryn White, Mt. Edgecumbe
Felicity Roe, Grace Christian
Dallas Dickerson, Anchorage Christian
Cheyanne Labor, Skyview
Renatta Olson, Mt. Edgecumbe
Caroline Everts, Hutchison
Casey Neil, Skyview
Kathy Holly, Mt. Edgecumbe
Catherine Mauldin, Anchorage Christian
Bridget Broderick, Grace Christian