Of the 16 teams at the state high school volleyball tournament, there is one with extra reason to be excited.
The Chugiak Mustangs, who come in as the third of three seeds from the Cook Inlet Conference, will enjoy home-court advantage for the remainder of their season because the tournament takes place at Chugiak High.
Making the state tournament was a goal for the Mustangs since the season started three months ago, but knowing it would be held at their school added incentive, said Chugiak coach Bobbi Mason.
"It makes it that much more special to host it," said Mason, who won a state title as a Chugiak sophomore in 1993 and coached Service to a title in 2003.
The double-elimination tournament begins Thursday and will crown Class 4A and Class 3A champions Saturday. Eight teams will compete in each class, including defending Class 4A champion Dimond and two-time defending Class 3A champ Mt. Edgecumbe.
Chugiak, which hasn't been in the state tournament since finishing third in 2010, secured the CIC's third seed by finishing third in last week's CIC tournament. The state-berth clinching match for Chugiak came in an upset of a higher-seeded West squad in a loser-out match.
"When we won that game, everybody lost 15 pounds of mental pressure," Mason said.
Dimond and South are the top two seeds from the CIC and have combined to win the past eight Class 4A state titles, putting Chugiak in an underdog role. After a season with its share of ups and downs, Mason thinks the Mustangs are peaking at the right time and ready to contend this week.
"We know we can compete with the best of the best, if we bring our own game to the court," she said. "We do feel so comfortable at home."
Chugiak's first opponent is Kodiak, the top seed from the Northern Lights Conference. The match is at 3:15 p.m., an ideal time for Chugiak students and faculty to attend, so Mason expects a good home crowd.
Aside from the crowd and comfort level, Mason said the Mustangs will enjoy an advantage in the serving game. On some courts, like the one at Service High, where the CIC tournament was held last week, girls have a lot of extra room to serve from way behind the service line. For players trying to receive an incoming serve, that extra distance the ball travels creates a different look and feel than a ball served from shorter distances, the way they will be at Chugiak.
"It changes the speed of the ball to the eye," Mason said. "If there is ever a home-court advantage, it is in the serving."
Class 3A and 4A matches will be conducted side by side in the early rounds, with a single court being set up for the championship matches. The gym is equipped with new nets and refinished wood floors, so Mason thinks all the teams will enjoy the experience.
The state tournament was held the past three years at the Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla, where matches were played on a floor of portable insulation that fit over the top of the ice in the hockey rink. The playing surface at Menard was somewhat slick, Mason said, and playing on wood floors will be a welcome change.
The stands at Chugiak are also much closer to the court than the stands at Menard, creating a cozier experience for fans and players.
"It will be pretty comfortable for everyone," Mason said. "I think there is gonna be some great volleyball this week."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
ASAA/First National Bank
State volleyball tournament
10 a.m. — Juneau vs. Palmer
11:45 a.m. — Dimond vs. Colony
1:30 p.m. — West Valley vs. South
3:15 p.m. — Kodiak vs. Chugiak
5:15 p.m. — Dimond-Colony winner vs. Juneau-Palmer winner
7 p.m. — West Valley-South winner vs. Kodiak-Chugiak winner
(Championship match is 6 p.m. Saturday)
10 a.m. — Mt. Edgecumbe vs. Barrow
11:45 a.m. — Monroe vs. Anchorage Christian
1:30 p.m. — Nome vs. Skyview
3:15 p.m. — Grace Christian vs. Hutchison
5:15 p.m. — Mt. Edgecumbe-Barrow winner vs. Monroe-ACS winner
7 p.m. — Nome-Skyview winner vs. Grace-Hutchison winner
(Championship match is 3 p.m. Saturday)
By JEREMY PETERS