By Craig Giammona
Courtesy Daily Sitka Sentinel
This one wasn’t easy.
Facing an uphill battle just to reach the state tournament after a second-round loss to the Craig Panthers, the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Lady Braves won three straight matches Saturday at the Region V volleyball tournament to claim their fourth straight 3A Southeast title, their fifth in six years.
After beating Sitka High in a five-game state play-in match Saturday morning in Ketchikan, the Lady Braves won two straight over Craig, including a five-game finale, to hold their perch atop the Southeast volleyball world.
“They wanted a regional championship and they went out and got it,” MEHS coach Rich Calkins said today. “The girls really, really stepped up, it was nice to see.”
The Lady Braves entered the tournament as the top seed after compiling an 11-1 conference record in the regular season. They beat Petersburg to open the tournament, but fell to Craig 3-0 (23, 25-22 and 26-24) Friday night. The loss meant that Mt. Edgecumbe had to win three straight matches Saturday to retain the 3A Southeast title.
First up was Sitka High. The Lady Wolves beat Wrangell to open the tournament, and then lost 3-1 to Craig Thursday night. But SHS regrouped, beating Haines and Petersburg to advance to Saturday’s showdown with cross-town rival Mt. Edgecumbe.
With a trip to the state tournament on the line, Edgecumbe and Sitka played their third five-game match of the season. The Lady Wolves went ahead 1-0 with a 25-20 win, before the Lady Braves evened the match with their own 25-20 victory. The Lady Braves put Sitka on the brink of elimination with a 25-13 win in the third game, but Sitka forced a fifth and final game with a 25-18 win that left the match 2-2. The Lady Braves took the rubber game 15-9 to win the match.
It was the third time the two local schools met this season, and each match-up went the distance. The Lady Wolves pushed Edgecumbe to five games early in the season before ending Mt. Edgecumbe’s 58-game conference winning streak with a five-game win on senior night at Sitka High. The loss Saturday eliminated the Lady Wolves, while Mt. Edgecumbe secured a trip north to the state tournament.
Calkins said the celebration after the win over Sitka was subdued. The Lady Braves had locked up a state berth, but they had work to do.
“That wasn’t their goal,” Calkins said of making the state tournament. “I don’t think they were satisfied.”
The Braves had to beat Craig twice to win the double elimination tournament and they got things started with a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-21 and 25-22) that set up a true Region V championship game. This time the Lady Panthers did not go quietly. Edgecumbe was serving with a 24-23 lead in the first game, before Craig rallied to win 28-26. Trailing 1-0 in the match, the Lady Braves took the next game 25-17. After a pair of 25-23 games, one each for Edgecumbe and Craig, the match was even 2-2. The Lady Braves fell behind 7-2 in the final game and trailed 11-7 before rallying for a 15-11 win.
Calkins said he had stressed to his team that winning three straight matches was an achievable goal, and that’s just what the Lady Braves did as they once again brought a Southeast title back to Japonski Island.
“They believed it and they came out and proved it,” Calkins said.
Edgecumbe advanced to the state tournament as the top seed out of Southeast, while the Craig Panthers will also make a trip to Wasilla this week.
The Lady Braves will play Barrow Thursday. Also in their bracket are Seward and Monroe Catholic. Craig will face Dillingham in the opening round at state, with Grace Christian and Delta Junction also in the Lady Panthers’ bracket.
Calkins said today he doesn’t know too much about the Lady Whalers, Edgecumbe’s first-round opponent. He said Grace Christian was probably the best team out of Anchorage, but the state tournament generally comes down to who gets hot at the right time.
“I like our chances just as well as anybody’s,” Calkins said.
Calkins said a lot of the credit for Edgecumbe’s success should go to his assistant coaches: Brenda Calkins and Archie Young.
"Those guys make it really easy for me,” Calkins said.