High velocity spikes are not a rare sight at state volleyball tournaments, but it is rare to see them delivered by boys.
Mixed 6 volleyball teams, fielded by schools too small to create full girls teams, use three girls and three boys on the court at all times, and Unalakleet's Stuart Towarak and Noatak's Anthony Ashby were two standout boys in Thursday's opening-round action at the Class 2A and Mixed 6 state championships at Dimond High.
The two seniors delivered some of the biggest hits of the day and both helped their teams pick up convincing wins.
At 6-foot-2, Towarak is the tallest player for a Unalakleet team that swept Thorne Bay, and he can jump. His kick of 112 inches won the one-foot high kick at the Native Youth Olympics earlier this year.
"A couple of my friends told me that I should join volleyball, since I'm kinda tall," Towarak said. "I'm glad I got into it. Just coming up against competitive teams is fun."
Towarak is easy to spot with his pink shoes and impressive mohawk that has earned him the nickname "Birdman" from his teammates.
He disappears for about a half hour before every game to prepare his hair, Unalakleet coach Dorothy Ivanoff said. Towarak, who learned the game from his mother and older sister, has played on the volleyball team for four years, but this is his first year acting as team captain.
"Stuart, he's come a long ways, he's proved himself over the past four years," Ivanoff said. "He's an all-around good player. He can get down on the floor, he can spike the ball, he digs the ball, he got some good serves."
At 5-9, Ashby isn't the tallest player or the best leaper for Noatak, but he is always in control and always makes the right play at the right time, Noatak coach Timm Nelson said.
"Anthony played really well," Nelson said. "He's kinda been our go-to guy for the last couple years. He's a smart player."
Also a basketball player, Ashby was introduced to volleyball by some friends when he was a sophomore and said he enjoys the team aspect most. He helped Noatak to a runner-up finish in last season's state tournament and a first-round sweep of Akiachak in Thursday's first round.
"We came here to play and try to take first this year," Ashby said. "We'll do our best."
Noatak has improved its attitudes this season, coming in with a more positive outlook, Ashby said. If the Lynx beat Elim in a Friday semifinal, they will reach the championship match for the second straight season.
Unalakleet, which is undefeated in 23 matches this season, will play defending champion Glacier View in a Friday semifinal, hoping for a shot to win the school's first state title.
"This will be our ninth year at state, and I'm really hoping we can get that state title," Ivanoff said. "I think by far this is the best team I've ever seen."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS