The Kenai Central volleyball team had punched its ticket to the last two 3A Alaska state championship games dating back to 2019 but came up short both times.
Last year’s title loss made for a lot of sleepless nights in the Beck household, where Kardinals head coach Tracie and her daughter Emma pondered what they could’ve done differently to have changed the outcome of their five-set defeat to Valdez in the 2021 state finals.
“I was going, ‘What could I have done differently?’ — and she was wondering, ‘What else could I have done?,’” Tracie Beck said. “After we walked off that court, (Emma) had a mindset (that) everybody else did: We wanted something different next year.”
The Kardinals responded with a strong and consistent season, from start to finish, that culminated with that “different” result they were searching for.
Kenai Central capped off a dominant postseason run Saturday by claiming its first state title in program history with a 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-22) sweep of Valdez.
“In the past three years we’ve gotten second twice, so it’s just an amazing feeling,” Emma said. “We definitely took it pretty hard when we lost last year, so we really wanted to come here and take care of business.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of her freshman season — a campaign in which the Kardinals felt like they had a chance at winning state.
“It wasn’t our year yet,” Tracie Beck said. “I had amazing players back then; it was a great experience.”
To come back and see the job through to the end with her mother at the helm of the program was a reward unlike any other for Emma.
“I wouldn’t want any other coach,” she said. “She’s the best coach I’ve ever had in my life, and I’m so glad to have her in my life.”
Kenai was very happy with the fact that they not only avenged their defeat in last year’s state finals but that they did it in three straight sets.
“It feels good to beat them in three sets,” senior libero Kimberly Chanley said. “They played hard. They’re a really tough team.”
She said these last four years have been the most fun of her life, and as a senior she is grateful to be able to “go out with a bang.”
“I honestly didn’t know if we had it,” Chanley said. “It was a little scary when we first started and then we just played our hardest. It feels great to finally take a championship title and bring it home to our school.”
Kenai won the first two sets by identical 25-21 scores and the third 25-22 to complete their third sweep of the state tournament and second in a row.
The final point triggered a major celebration both on the Kenai sideline and in the stands.
“I looked back at my bench, and everyone was jumping up, and then we were all jumping in a big circle,” Beck said. “The last couple of points, I could finally feel the momentum going and going. I thought we had them, but I had to make sure to put them down when I needed to.”
The team was thankful for the community’s continued support on its extended and final road trip.
“A lot of people drove up just to support us,” Emma said. “It’s just such a good community, and we’re really happy we can bring this back to them.”
Family and friends came up from the Peninsula and let their presence be felt and voices heard for every point and especially at the end of each set.
“We probably have the biggest fanbase ever,” Chanley said. “Our parents do everything for us. I think the community of Kenai is going to be extremely thrilled that we finally got to bring home the title not just for us but for everyone, representing our whole entire school and community.”
Tracie has been coaching this particular group of seniors since they were in middle school, and while she is happy to have reached the mountaintop with them, she is sad that this is the end at the same time.
“They’re ready to fly and it’s hard to say goodbye to your seniors,” Beck said. “It’s a dream we’ve been chasing and it’s a little overwhelming.”
As exciting as winning the first state championship in program history was for Emma and her teammates that will be returning, she already has her eyes set on getting ready to defend their title.
“We’re going to get back to work as soon as we get back into town and club starts,” Beck said. “We have a lot of juniors this year who want it bad next year, too, so I think we’ll just take care of business and do what we got to do.”