WASILLA -- Mt. Edgecumbe solidified itself as a volleyball powerhouse Saturday, capturing its second straight Class 3A state title in a tumultuous final match against Grace Christian at Menard Sports Complex.
The Braves overcame a shaky start to win 25-21, 13-25, 25-17, 25-22 in a match containing nearly as many mistakes as it did highlights on both sides of the net.
"It was a roller coaster," Mt. Edgecumbe coach Richard Calkins said. "The way we started out, it looked like we had never been here before."
Using strategy and pep talks, the Braves found a way to beat Grace for the second straight year. It was the third straight year the teams had met in the state final, with Grace winning in 2010.
"I'm really happy that we did it and as a team we pulled through, because we struggled a little bit out there," Mt. Edgecumbe's Deenaalee Hodgdon said. "We've had a pretty strong team, chemistry-wise, throughout the season and I think that's what pulled us through."
Hodgdon led the team from Sitka with 19 kills, striking for match point on a fluke play that caught Grace off guard. She dove forward for a ball in the back court and accidentally sent it over the net, where it hit the floor in the middle of six stunned Grace players. Hodgdon said she was just trying to get the ball to the setter, so Taryn White (13 kills) could hit it.
"It breaks your heart," Grace coach Valerie Steele said of the last point, "It's not the first time it has ever happened, but it was a fluke thing."
Grace had already fought off two match points when the final point landed. Because the Grizzlies came into the final with one loss, the tournament's new double-elimination format required them to win the match to force an if-necessary set to 30 points to decide a winner. Grace, which swept Monroe earlier Saturday to earn its place in the final, won all its five-set matches this season.
"I think we woulda had it if we got a fifth game," Steele said.
Grace started the match like a ball of fire, shooting to a 17-11 lead in the first set on a big kill from Heather Green (19 kills, 25 digs). The Grizzlies looked poised to win the set with ease until Mt. Edgecumbe suddenly pulled it together and closed the set on a 14-4 run.
Just when it seemed the Braves had shaken the early-match jitters, Grace torched them in the second set, establishing leads of 10-3 and 20-8. The key for Grace was a match-up adjustment that put Green opposite White, Steele said -- that and a great team effort at the net in the second set.
"The big thing that really kept us in that game was the blocks," Steele said. "We changed our blocking strategy and our blockers really executed."
Calkins said he made counter adjustments for the third set, and the Braves also picked up their level of intensity.
"There was a major lack of intensity (in the second set)," White said. "It's a funk that we get into every once in a while. When we're out there and we play hard and we have a lot of intensity, no one can stop us."
Nicole Weisenfelder provided 10 kills, 12 digs and 13 assists and Felicity Roe added 18 digs and 18 assists for the Grizzlies, who never trailed by more than four points in the final set.
"I just wish we could keep playing volleyball," said Green, a junior who has played for the Grizzlies in three straight state title matches. "It was so fun. Next year, we'll come back."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS