Delaney Ott started rattling off schools in Fairbanks — a laundry list of places the Monroe Catholic volleyball team had practiced this season.
“Ryan Middle School, Hutchison High School, Lathrop, West Valley, pretty much everywhere,” she said.
Everywhere but Monroe Catholic.
After the school’s gym was destroyed by flooding last March, the team was forced to play and practice on the road all season.
So when the Rams earned a come-from-behind 3-2 (23-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-15, 15-12) victory over Barrow in the first round of the 3A state tournament Thursday, it was just another road game.
“We’re very resilient,” head coach Dave Obermeyer said. “They play for themselves, for each other.”
Ott, a senior libero, said the circumstance has brought the team together. They’ve played all of their games on the road, even though they’ve operated as the host on ones scheduled to be at their home gym.
“We’ve just become more of a team and like try to cheer each other on because we don’t have that fan base,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of crowds.”
The gym was put out of commission toward the end of the 2021-22 basketball season on March 5. A ceiling beam cracked, dropped down and broke the sprinkler system.
“When I looked in the gym, it was a rainstorm,” said Frank Ostanik, the school’s athletic director.
The floor was flooded and other beams were found to be unsound, necessitating major repairs. But Ostanik said the school hopes to be back in the space in late March 2023.
On Thursday at Alaska Airlines Center, the Rams started slow, falling in the first set. After tying the match 1-1, they lost the third set and were in a dire spot in the 4th. Down 6-0, they rallied to win 25-15 and took the final set after a quick start.
“The girls just understand the heart they need to have to finish games,” Obermeyer said. “That’s what came out there and the momentum took us into the fifth set.”
Ott said cutting out unforced errors helped the team rally.
“Just controlling what we could do on our side,” she said. “That got us in the first few sets. But in the last set you picked it up.”
Sitka sweeps Nikiski for the third time, defending champ Valdez advances
In sports coaches will often say that it his hard to beat a team twice in a single season, let alone three times if they see them again in the postseason. However, that is exactly what the Sitka girls varsity volleyball team did in the opening round of the 3A tournament.
“We always say ‘The most important thing is the next thing’ so although we just played that game and that was really good, the most important game in the next one,” Sitka coach Zaide Allen said. “Having the mentality of fearing no team but having respect for every team as well.”
Even though their respective towns are over 600 miles apart, the Wolves and Bulldogs managed to face each other twice in the regular season during two different tournaments with each ending the same way. Nikiski appeared determined to see if the third time could prove to be the charm in a tightly contested first set that was back and forth for awhile until Sitka pulled away late for the early lead and took it 25-21.
“I think at first we were a little nervous and then we kind of just figured it out, found ourselves and pulled through,” Allen said.
In the second set, the Bulldogs were able to dig themselves out of an early hole to tie it 9-9 before Sitka went on a 5-0 run to go up 14-9 and would outscore their opponents 11-4 to close it out and take the set 25-13. The third and final set played out much like the first and ended in the same score 25-21 to complete the sweep for the Wolves.
“The girls worked hard and played well,” Allen said.
Sitka has never won a state title in program history and have leaned on their young core that consist of six sophomores, two freshmen, three seniors and a junior. Only three of the players on this year’s team have previous experience at the state tournament.
“I feel like they work really well together and play hard together,” Allen said. “They’ve all played together since they were in sixth grade pretty much so cohesion has come up for a long time.”
Valdez advanced easily over Houston in the opening round 3-0 (25-16, 25-8, 25-20). Kenai Central defeated Nome-Beltz 3-0 (25-11, 25-14, 25-13).
The state tournament is a double-elimination format. The winners bracket games continued Thursday evening with Monroe Catholic playing Sitka and Valdez taking on Kenai Central.
Play will resume in both losers and winners brackets on Friday.