Homer sophomore Marina Carroll watches as teammate Kelli Bishop sends the ball into Nikiski’s court Tuesday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer sophomore Marina Carroll watches as teammate Kelli Bishop sends the ball into Nikiski’s court Tuesday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer earns spot at volleyball state championships

After a season of growth and a third-place finish at last week’s Southcentral Conference volleyball tournament in Anchorage, the Homer volleyball team is headed to the state championships.

The Mariners earned a spot at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament through an at-large berth, awarded after the conference tournament and based on the team’s overall season performance. Only two teams, the two that take first and second in the Southcentral Conference tourney, get automatic state berths. Those went to Nikiski High School, which won the conference tournament, and Grace Christian, which came in second.

Homer placed third by defeating Kenai Central High School in a three-game sweep on the second day of the tournament. The last time Homer saw the inside of a state championship tournament was 2015.

Coach Sara Pennington said that while anything can happen, her team was pretty confident it would be chosen for the at-large berth by the Alaska School Activities Association.

“We actually had a really good feeling that we would be the team,” she said. “…The other schools that were also being looked at, we had beat in tournament play, so that kind of put us ahead.”

The Mariners won their first conference tournament game against Houston 3-0, with scores of 25-11, 25-12 and 25-12. That was in the first round on Friday. They moved on to face Grace later that day, and fell 1-4 with scores of 25-19, 16-25, 15-25 and 21-25.

Pennington said she had expected her team to beat Houston, and that they would have preferred to make it to the final round of the tournament. She said her players started strong against Grace, and that she was proud of them for coming back to place third after losing to them.

They defeated Seward High School in a five-game set to move into the third-place game against Kenai. The scores against Seward were 25-20, 25-17, 25-27, 18-25 and 15-9. The Mariners went on to claim third place overall by beating Kenai 25-15, 25-17 and 25-13.

“I’m really glad that they were able to still come out third, because a lot of times it’s hard to come back after having lost the game that was ‘the’ game,” Pennington said.

Heading into the state championship this weekend, Pennington said several of the players are working through injuries and illness.

“They’re really excited,” she said. “And I just hope that they look at it as more of an opportunity, and not look down on themselves if we get knocked out the first round.”

Homer will begin by playing Valdez at 1:30 p.m. today at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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