Just about every corner of Alaska can claim a piece of the state volleyball championship earned by Mt. Edgecumbe on Saturday afternoon.
Led by an All-American outside hitter, the Braves fielded an all-Alaska lineup that outlasted Monroe 33-31 in a memorable tiebreaker that followed an equally memorable match to capture the Class 3A state title at the Alaska Airlines Center.
A boarding school in Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe attracts students from all over the state. Among its stars Saturday were three seniors who have been on the team for four straight years, a period during which the Braves have won three state volleyball titles.
Taryn White, the second player in state history to garner All-America honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, is from Hoonah on the Southeast Alaska panhandle. Eden Cronk, a steady presence in the middle, is from Interior Alaska's Tok, near the Canadian border. Renatta Olson, a libero who helped Mt. Edgecumbe keep the ball in play time after time, is from Golovin on western Alaska's Seward Peninsula.
"I love that we're not all from the same place and we can come together on the court," White said.
Mike Mahoney, their coach, loves that they never gave up in the relentlessly back-and-forth match.
"We talked about flexing our never-quit muscles, and tonight we did that," he said. "No one was gonna give it to them."
Monroe, a Catholic school in Fairbanks, did its best to deny the Braves.
Both teams were undefeated coming into the three-day, eight-team tournament, and both won their first two matches to advance to Friday's semifinal match. Mt. Edgecumbe won in four sets, moving into the championship match while sending Monroe into the losers bracket. The Rams stayed alive Saturday morning with a four-set win over defending state champion Grace Christian to earn another shot at Mt. Edgecumbe.
The finale was an epic, entertaining affair. Monroe took a gritty 25-23, 18-25, 25-27, 25-23, 15-12 victory packed with long rallies and nonstop tension. The score was tied 42 times and the lead switched hands 28 times. In the third and fourth sets, neither team led by more than three points; the third set was tied 16 times and the fourth set was tied 14 times.
Monroe's win forced the tiebreaker, a single set to 30 points. With everything at stake, the teams traded the lead six times and were tied 10 times.
"No, not at all," Mahoney said. "It was terrifying."
At least he had White on his side. A 5-foot-11 outside hitter, White sent missile after missile over the net to fuel the Braves. When she rotated into the back row, she did a good job switching to setter and running the offense, but she was most terrifying when she was at the net.
But the Braves had more than one weapon. Kathy Holly delivered several clutch kills from the outside, including a cross-court shot to the corner that was in-bounds by an inch or two and gave the Braves a 32-31 lead in the tiebreaker. Mt. Edgecumbe clinched the championship right after that when a tip by Monroe went into the net.
Hitting errors plagued Monroe throughout the finale, with its most consistent hitting coming from Emily Pfister, a small but powerful 5-6 juinior. Marissa King, a 5-9 senior outside hitter, also helped keep Mt. Edgecumbe off-guard with a variety of tips, soft kills and hard spikes.
"They left everything they had on the court," Monroe coach Dave Obermeyer said.
The Rams showed world-class resiliency. In the fifth set, which only goes to 15 points, they trailed 10-5 before going on a 5-0 run to tie it 10-10. In the tiebreaker, they trailed 11-6 only to come back to grab a 24-19 lead that put them six points away from their first state championship since 1988.
"We just didn't close out," Obermeyer said.
Mt. Edgecumbe rallied behind White, who pounded five kills to help the Braves cut Monroe's lead to 29-28 -- including a deep rocket that deprived Monroe of match point.
White rotated into the back row after that, meaning she couldn't attack at the net, but that didn't give Monroe the break you might have expected, because Holly proved tough to stop.
Holly, a senior from Nome, said she was able to appreciate the match's entertainment value even though she was in the thick of things.
"You can enjoy it," she said, "but it's really intense, because you don't know what will happen. All we said was, 'Believe in your teammates.' ''
Contact Beth Bragg at 257-4335 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Alaska Dispatch Publishing