WASILLA -- Mt. Edgecumbe and Grace Christian have met in the Class 3A volleyball state final the last two seasons, each winning once. Thursday, the teams used vastly different types of wins in the second round of the state tournament at the Menard Sports Complex to set up a semifinal rematch.
Mt. Edgecumbe got stronger in each set to cruise past Nome 25-15, 25-10, 25-5, and Grace came from behind to beat Valdez 21-25, 26-24, 22-25, 25-19, 15-11.
"This team has played quite a few five-set matches and they've never lost one," Grace coach Valerie Steele said.
Mt. Edgecumbe (28-1) and Grace (16-0) have played three times this season, all in matches that didn't count toward the teams' overall records. They split two endowment matches, and Grace bettered the Braves in a tournament match at the West Spiketacular.
"People are telling us we're better than last year, and so if we play our game I hope with all my heart we defend," Mt. Edgecumbe senior setter Mariah Martin said. "This year we have a better back row and our hits are harder, but they're not as smart."
Martin, who finished with 37 assists against Nome, said she has taken on a leadership role as one of three seniors on the team. She often finds herself telling younger players to keep their attitudes positive and their heads high no matter how tough things get.
"Whenever you come into a state tournament, you're gonna be scared," Martin said. "Don't let them get down on themselves. When you start to see it, you can see their heads go down."
There weren't many opportunities for the Braves to hang their heads against Nome. Junior Deenaalee Hodgdon led Mt. Edgecumbe attack with 23 kills and Taryn White contributed 14.
"I think we started off a little bit rusty, because we never played Nome before," Martin said. "As the match went on, we got more comfortable and we just played our game later on in the match."
Heather Green powered Grace's win over Valdez with 28 kills, 14 digs and seven blocks. Nicole Weisenfelder tossed in nine kills, 14 digs and 16 assists, and Felicity Roe contributed seven kills, 21 assists and 11 digs.
"Sometimes it feels like the Heather Green Show, but she puts the ball down from anywhere she is on the court, even the back row," Steele said. "Nicole Weisenfelder, setter, she ran all over the place and just did a great job."
Mt. Edgecumbe will be trying to win the school's second title this weekend. The Braves added a new element to their preparation this season, taking part in scrimmages and tournament matches against Class 4A schools like Bartlett and Colony.
"I think this is probably the best prepared team in that way," Mt. Edgecumbe coach Richard Calkins said. "We're coming in and just trying to take it one match at a time. We like our matchups against everybody."
This is the first year the state tournament is using a double-elimination format, so it was the first time winning teams had to play two matches on the tournament's opening day. "Personally, I like single elimination better, because everyone always remembers the upsets." Calkins said.
Saturday's championship match will feature the winner of Friday's Mt. Edgecumbe-Grace Christian match and the survivor of the losers bracket. If the team that comes from the losers bracket wins, a single set to 30 points will follow the match, with the state title going to the winner.
Calkins said he thinks the quick set to 30 isn't the best way to decide things, because the team that won the match has all the momentum. Even so, Calkins thinks the best team will win.
"It's fun," he said. "It's just more volleyball."
Steele said she's a fan of the new format.
"I love it, because it keeps it away from being a fluke if some weirdo team beats a great team," Steele said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS