The West High volleyball team has been able to hang with the best in the state all season. The Eagles have shown talent, but had struggled to close out matches against quality opponents heading into this year’s Alaska 4A state championship tournament.
But in Thursday’s opening round of the state tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center, the Eagles found a way to seal the deal against a top team.
After falling behind 2-0, West rallied to win the next three sets and top Wasilla 3-2 (19-25, 21-25, 25-23, 26-24, 15-7).
“We just came into a mindset that we were going to have to battle hard and we didn’t realize how hard we were going to have to battle,” West coach Jaige Gerig said. “It kind of put us in a stunned kind of motion, but then we were able to regroup, came together, and carry each other.”
Facing the possibility of being the third team swept on the day thus far, the Eagles fell behind early in the third set but managed to tie it up at 16 apiece before going on to outscore the Warriors 9-6 to keep hope alive.
“A lot of us were putting in a lot of effort and then it felt as though we get gassed in the middle of that play,” Gerig said. “We really had to find that final drive to push through.”
Gerig believes that the momentum shifted in the fourth set when the two teams traded blows back and forth until West found themselves up by four only to see their lead fade, at one point trailing 22-20 before outscoring Wasilla 6-2 to force a fifth set.
“It was definitely one where everybody was on the edge of their seats,” Gerig said.
The Eagles dominated the Warriors in the fifth and final set with great defense and relentless attacks on offense as they claimed the set and match with a 15-7 win.
“Once we found that rhythm, we were able to kind of coast and get a couple more points,” Gerig said.
The win was a break from the trends West had established to that point in the season. The Eagles had top-ranked Dimond on the ropes several times during the match between the two rivals at last week’s Region IV tournament, but weren’t able to close them out and wound up getting swept in three straight sets.
“Last time we played Dimond, we had them on edge,” Gerig said. “We just gave up some unforced errors that we didn’t mean to.”
Dimond cruised 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-15) over Bettye Davis East in the opening round. Colony dug out of a hole after losing the first set to defeat Thunder Mountain 3-1 (16-25 ‚25-20, 28-26, 25-18). In the day’s final first-round match, South High defeated Lathrop 3-1 (25-27, 25-20, 25-20, 25-22).
The state tournament is a double-elimination format. The winners bracket games continued Thursday evening with Dimond facing West and Colony set to face South.
Play resume in both losers and winners brackets on Friday.