By TOM HESSE
Sentinel Staff Writer
For the fourth-straight year the state 3A volleyball title came down to Mt. Edgecumbe and Grace Christian and for the second straight year the Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves returned home as state champions.
The Lady Braves defended their title against Grace Christian in four sets, 25-21, 13-25, 25-17, 25-22. Lady Braves head coach Rich Calkins said Grace Christian came out strong and Mt. Edgecumbe was forced to take an early timeout to regroup.
“They jumped all over us at the beginning,” Calkins said. “They took it to us and we had to take a timeout and tell the girls, you know, Grace Christian is a good team and you can’t be surprised when they capitalize on our mistakes.”
Calkins said the Lady Grizzlies were nearly flawless in the second set, which Mt. Edgecumbe lost 13-25 but the Lady Braves rallied to take the next two sets.
The Lady Braves accounted for four of the 12 spots on the All-Tournament team. Taryn White, Deenaalee Hodgdon, Maggie Okakok and Mariaha Martin were all selected to the all-tournament squad and White and Okakok both received individual honors. White was selected as the hitter of the tournament and Okakok was named defensive player of the tournament.
“We had some great girls all around,” Calkins said.
Calkins was particularly pleased with his team’s play at the net, sighting numerous occasions when the Lady Braves played good defense against the Grace Christian hitters.
“Anytime you can get some blocks against a big-hitting team, that’s huge,”
Calkins said. “Danielle Fields was excellent at the net. She had several blocks against their best hitter and Paytonn Weisz played big for us at the net, too.”
Calkins said the Lady Braves benefited from pursuing matches against several 4A schools this season, which gave the team confidence heading into this weekend.
“I think we believed we were the best team heading in and we played like it,” Calkins said.
Three Lady Braves will be graduating as state champions this year. Martin, Okakok and Katelyn Cook are all seniors and Calkins said their leadership will be missed next season.
“Those three seniors are going to be hugely missed,” Calkins said. “They were wonderful to coach.”
Mt. Edgecumbe was undefeated at the tournament, beating Nikiski and Nome on Thursday and winning a Friday matchup against Grace Christian before Saturday’s championship.
The newly-adopted double elimination format allowed Mt. Edgecumbe to secure a bye into Saturday’s championship match by beating Grace Christian in three sets on Friday night.
Calkins said the Braves fell behind early in Friday’s match against Grace Christian.
“Friday night, when we were playing just to get into the championship, we fell behind 15-11 and Grace Christian hadn’t even created an error yet,” Calkins said. “They were playing perfect volleyball.”
Mt. Edgecumbe went on to win the match 25-22, 25-15, 25-19.
Four of the Lady Braves players will return as seniors next season. Fields, Hodgdon, White, Weisz, Leilani Saena, Renatta Olson and Eden Cronk could all return to compete for a third title next year. Weisz was the team’s lone freshman this season.
“All the younger players played really well and once we started playing volleyball the stage wasn’t too big for them,” Calkins said.
Calkins said he’s looking forward to trading seats with his assistant coach, Archie Young, for the upcoming basketball season. Young coaches basketball for the Braves and Calkins serves as an assistant; a reversal of roles from the volleyball season.
“Archie did some tremendous work with the girls this season and he’s been great as a coach and a friend,” Calkins said. “It’s really important to the program to have coaches like Archie and my wife Brenda (Calkins) to help with the team and to have Glade Morales working to develop players on the C team.”
Calkins picked up a cold to go along with Mt. Edgecumbe’s newest state title, but said he could forgive Wasilla considering the two years of good fortune his team has had there.
“(Wasilla) has been good to us,” Calkins said.