WASILLA — High school volleyball fans don’t have to wait long to see a rematch of last season’s Class 4A state volleyball match.
Dimond and defending champion South each picked up two wins Thursday at the Menard Sports Complex, and because of a new double-elimination format, they will face off in a Friday semifinal.
South advanced with a 25-12, 25-21, 25-19 second-round sweep of East and Dimond moved on with a 25-17, 25-16, 25-21 win over Juneau.
Dimond and South have played each other in the last two state title matches, each winning once. They played twice in last week’s Cook Inlet Conference championships, with South taking the winners bracket semifinal and Dimond winning the final after coming back through the losers bracket.
The Wolverines struggled in their first-round match Thursday, needing five sets to get past Soldotna. But the pressure of a title defense wasn’t to blame for the rocky start, coach Judy Knecht said.
“I just don’t have enough returning players, so it was a whole different squad this year,” she said. “Part of what we’re battling is I have five sophomores and they hadn’t been here before at all.”
After barely slipping past the Stars, South settled in for the sweep of East, in which Morgan Hooe dished 43 assists, Mikayla Sweet banged
13 kills, Lauren Hoffman hit for 12 kills and Shelby Little added six blocks.
“Soldotna, we weren’t playing our best, we were just kinda timid and just waiting for things to happen,” said South sophomore Kayla Sims, who was cheering from the bench during last season’s state final against Dimond. “East, we did better at putting the ball away and keeping the ball in play.”
Dimond didn’t lose a set Thursday, sweeping Palmer in the first round before sweeping Juneau in the second round.
In both matches, Leah Swiss drilled 12 kills and Tatyana Johnson had 10 kills. Aaliyah Lewis powered Dimond’s second win with 31 digs and Sierra Afoa chipped in nine kills.
“I thought Juneau played some great defense against us,” Dimond coach Kim Lauwers said. “We’re a hard-hitting team and they dug the ball really well. We had to make some adjustments. We served aggressively and I thought that was part of the reason why we scored.”
While the winner of Friday’s Dimond-South will advance to Saturday’s championship match, each of Thursday’s losing teams still has a chance to earn the other spot in the finale by fighting their way through the losers bracket.
East coach Jim Dooley, whose team took a first-round win over West Valley before facing South, likes the double-elimination format and said his team didn’t mind having to play two matches on the first day.
“What else are we gonna do in Wasilla?” he said.
Dooley said the Thunderbirds didn’t give up an sets easily to South, showing they could hang tough with the defending champs.
“Taria Page, Morgan Hill and Falua Makihele, they all played well,” he said. “We get a little bit more consistent on just our ball control, we’ll be all right.”
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS