Mustang volleyball returns to state


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Rumors of Chugiak’s demise have been exaggerated.

The Mustang volleyball team locked up a fourth consecutive state tournament berth with a dominant 3-0 (25-23, 25-15, 25-12) win over East in the third-place match of the Cook Inlet Conference volleyball tournament on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Service High.

“We’ve been getting better every week,” said coach Kelly Kavanaugh.

Chugiak’s state tournament quest begins today at 7:15 p.m. against Northern Lights Conference champion Palmer at the Menard Center in Wasilla.

Chugiak struggled midway through the regular season. The team’s low point came during a terrible first day at the Service/Dimond tournament that left them in last place among 20 teams. But since then, the Mustangs have rallied, and they looked every bit the part of a state tournament team against East.

The first set was tense, with neither team holding more than a two-point advantage until late, when sophomore Kirsten Veech notched three consecutive kills to give her team a 22-19 lead. Karlee Kavanaugh finished the set off with an emphatic kill, and the win seemed to take the wind out of East’s sails.

“It was hard for them to match our intensity after that,” coach Kavanaugh said.

Veech had a Chugiak season-high 12 kills, Kavanaugh had nine kills, Mollie Matthis added six kills and 19 assists, Kathleen Gill notched 18 assists, Anna Matthews had six kills and Kristy Howard dropped four kills and three service aces.

Veech said the mid-season swoon was definitely a turning point for the Mustangs.

“Since that tournament, we’ve been on the upswing,” she said.

Third-seeded Chugiak opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over No. 6 West before falling in a dramatic 3-2 loss to No. 2 Dimond in the semifinals.

Kelly Kavanaugh said that in order for Chugiak to break through against the likes of Dimond and South (which won the tournament), they’ll have to improved on the front line against other teams’ big attacks.

“We’ve got to get better at blocking,” he said.

Veech said the key to Chugiak’s state success will be to stay mentally focused throughout their matches.

“I think we need to be smart about the things we do,” she said.

She promised the Mustangs will continue to play the kind of volleyball that has them thinking about a high finish at state once again.

“We want to keep fighting until the end,” she said.

 

Wolves’ season ends with 3-1 loss to East

Though they were the higher seed entering the CIC tournament, it could be argued that the Wolves were underdogs against East in the opening round. After all, the T-Birds swept the regular season meetings with Eagle River.

Things changed little in the opening round, as the T-Birds took a 3-1 (25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 25-14) decision on Thursday, Nov. 3 to knock the Wolves out of the tourney.

“East had our number all year long,” said coach Katie Hulse.

Eagle River dropped two close sets before rallying for a tight 27-25 win in the third. But any momentum they might have gained was quickly ripped away as East opened the third on a 12-5 run and never looked back.

The Wolves lose three seniors to graduation, Lindsey Fukuoka, Kelsey Reeves and Kathy Michalski.

Fukuoka said what she’ll take away from the season has little to do with the team’s disappointing first-round exit.

“It was disappointing, but I love my team,” she said.

Fukuoka led the team with 15 assists, Lexie Curtis had 12 kills and Lucy Thomas had 24 digs.

Following the tournament, Curtis — a junior — and Fukuoka were each named to the All-CIC first team, while Thomas and Morgen Wohrle were named honorable mention.

Hulse said she was proud of her team’s work during a season that saw the Wolves finish fourth in the highly-competitive CIC. She said she was also proud of the way the team has begun to see itself as a legitimate contender.

“They’re starting to get to the point where losing’s not okay,” she said. “That’s a good thing.”

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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