The final spike of Wasilla senior Rylee Pitney’s high school career not only gave the Warriors volleyball team its first 4A state title in over 20 years, it was symbolic of the team’s dominance.
The emphatic kill completed a season in which the Warriors were undefeated in full best-of-five matches and swept through the state tournament, winning all four matches by 3-0 scores.
The cherry on that sundae of a season was a 3-0 (25-12, 25-14, 25-21) win over Bettye Davis East on Saturday, delivering the Warriors their first title since the 2001 season.
“It’s surreal,” Wasilla head coach Katie Oxspring said. “It just feels like this goal we’ve worked all year long on, and we had this in mind, but we knew that we were going to have to work really, really hard.”
Wasilla dominated the match using the same template they had all season long: dominating at the net.
At 6-foot-3, Pitney was joined by 6-foot-5 junior Layla Hays to provide an insurmountable blocking duo. The Warriors were loaded with hitters on the outside as well. With so much physical talent, Oxspring said, the team was focused on the mental side as much as the physical.
“We needed these kids to just be able to be great teammates to each other,” she said. “And so that took a lot of work on our coaches’ part to keep these kids engaged and active and playing for each other, and so that just feels so good more than anything that they play for each other. And I believe they did that.”
Wasilla got going early in the championship, taking a 16-7 lead in the first set as Pitney delivered a big block. The block was key for Wasilla throughout, forcing East to push shots over and giving the Warriors possession of the ball on the attack. Oxspring said despite having a size advantage, being able to control the ball is key.
“The block is super important, and we worked all season long on it as well because it has to still be effective,” Oxspring said. “The part you can control on your block are your hands. Sometimes you can get super high, but it doesn’t really matter if you can’t control that.”
Anchorage teams have dominated the state’s 4A volleyball scene for two decades, but Pitney said this win could help shift the balance of power.
“It has been forever since 2001,” she said. “So it’s been expected and we’re hoping this season (we would win it). We were working really hard for it. And so I think it’s gonna really kind of have an impact. Valley volleyball is there. It exists and it’s a force.”
The second set went much like the first, with Wasilla able to slowly pull away with strong offense and excellent blocking. East was also strong on defense, making some great plays in the back row and some good blocks of its own.
The third set was the closest of all three as the two teams traded points for much of the time. Wasilla led by just a point late, but a huge kill by Pitney made it 22-20.
Both Pitney and Oxspring said some of the team’s best competition was in practice. It also helped the team develop the depth the Warriors showcased throughout the three days at state.
“It’s so awesome to have Riley and Leila go against each other in practice,” Oxspring said. “I mean, we said from the beginning we want to practice to be our toughest competition. And that’s what we’ve worked hardest to achieve.”
Oxspring said the historic season was a triumph of teamwork and chemistry.
“To say every game was a new game and what motivated them was each other,” Oxspring said. “They wanted to win for their teammates, you know. Riley didn’t play for Riley — she played for the person next to her.”
ASAA 4A state volleyball championship
Wasilla 3, Dimond 0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-13)
Service 3, West Valley 0 (25-15, 25-11, 25-16)
South 3, Thunder Mountain 0 (25-12, 25-9, 25-20)
Bettye Davis East 3, Soldotna 0 (25-13, 25-22, 25-20)
Wasilla 3, South 0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-21)
Bettye Davis East 3, Service 1 (25-21, 16-25, 25-23, 25-19)
Wasilla 3, East 0 (25-14, 25-10, 25-18)
Dimond 3, Thunder Mountain 1 (25-16, 25-23, 22-25, 25-9)
South 3, Soldotna 0 (25-13, 25-16, 25-18)
Dimond 3, Service 2 (25-19, 22-25, 25-22, 23-25, 15-12)
Dimond 3, South 0 (25-19, 25-17, 27-25)
East 3, Dimond 0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-20)
Wasilla 3, East 0 (25-14, 25-10, 25-18)