Volleyball players from Dimond and South felt a certain obligation to put on a special show Saturday, given all of the extenuating COVID-19 circumstances.
They delivered a command performance. Lynx senior Larssen Anderson made a star turn and senior Jazzy Golly enjoyed simply getting back on the stage during a night of drama that ended when the Lynx rushed the court to celebrate another championship.
Dimond survived a five-set battle with the rival Wolverines to capture the Cook Inlet Conference tournament title, which this year represents the pinnacle of Alaska volleyball. There’s no state tournament because of the pandemic.
Propelled by Anderson’s 30 kills, the Lynx fought back after losing two of the first three sets to pull out a 25-20, 21-25, 15-25, 25-20, 15-9 victory at Service High.
It’s the third straight CIC crown and the seventh in nine years for Dimond, which finished a season abbreviated by the pandemic with a 13-0 record.
“I can safely say I probably never played a game like that one,” Anderson of her stellar performance. “I appreciate the encouragement I got from each and every teammate.”
Golly added nine kills and had a big night at the service line, serving eight straight points in the first set to give her team an early lead. Saturday marked her return to the court after she self-quarantined for two weeks after a close contact tested positive.
“I hadn’t played since Oct. 23,” Golly said. "My quarantine ended (Friday).
“I spent the time watching live streams, that’s all I did. Being out was certainly tough, but I knew my team was going to do it. It’s such a good group of girls.”
Earlier in the season, the entire conference was shut down for two weeks because of multiple quarantines among the Anchorage School District’s eight teams. During Golly’s second time away from the game, cell service and bandwidth kept her in touch with teammates.
“I FaceTimed every day,” she said. “Talked with just about every girl after matches I missed.”
The five-set match was only the second of the season for Dimond, which opened the season on Sept. 16 with a 3-2 victory over West.
“We weren’t playing Dimond volleyball, but we managed to flip that switch in that fourth set tonight and go from there,” Anderson said.
Helping Dimond win its 17th conference title since 1977 were seniors Arianna Vreeland and Kadyn Osborne. Vreeland had 29 digs and Osborne handed out 35 assists and scored match-point with a solo block.
“That girl (Osborne) has worked so hard from where she started to where she is now,” Anderson said.
South got a huge spark from Hanna Henrie, who had 17 kills, six blocks and six digs. Other top contributors for the Wolverines were seniors Cami Houser (7 kills, 3 blocks, 18 digs), Emma McMillan (34 assists, 13 digs), Kylie Hurd (37 digs) and Maddy Trawick (19 digs).
“This match was super special for all of us because we didn’t know how and when we’d be able to finish the season,” Henrie said. "The entire season was, ‘Are we going to play? Are we not going to play?’
“We played with masks on.”
Henrie said the masks made sense but offered challenges.
“It was different, but we prepared for it in practice every day,” she said. "It was definitely harder to breathe, especially in the first couple matches.
“After a while, you kind of forgot it was there.”
The match marked the ninth time in 10 years that Dimond and South have met in the conference championship and the sixth time in that span that Dimond emerged victorious over the Wolverines.
Strengthened mightily by Anchorage’s renowned club teams, the Lynx and Wolverines are without question the premier prep programs in Alaska volleyball. Together they have won the last 15 state championships, with Dimond taking eight and South seven, including last season’s.
They advanced to the championship match by pulling out four-set victories in Friday’s semifinal round at Service. Dimond held off West, 25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 25-18, and South survived against Bartlett, 25-18, 26-28, 25-22, 25-18.
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
Judith Utuga, Bartlett
Lorilynn Atafua, Bartlett
Kaydn Osborne, Dimond
Larssen Anderson, Dimond
Khadijah Morgan, East
Precilla Fagafaga, East
Cami Houser, South
Hanna Henrie, South
Hazel Allen, West
Camille Ruhlin-Hicks, West
Zaysharae Malia-Hughes, Bartlett
Katelyn Hall, Chugiak
Sara Moore, Chugiak
Kimmie Roth, Dimond
Jazzy Golly, Dimond
Chloie Garber, Eagle River
Elizabeth Ruehle, Eagle River
Hannah Lentfer, Service
Maddie Trawick, South
Kylie Hurd, South
Coach of the year -- Kim Lauwers, Dimond