Homer volleyball bows to Kotzebue at state

Stubbornness and tenacity earned the Homer volleyball team a spot at the Class 3A state tournament. Upon arrival, however, that dogged approach could only carry them so far.

A day after losing a first-round match against Valdez, it was Kotzebue that defeated Homer 3-1 in the second-chance bracket Friday at the Alaska Airlines Arena with scores of 25-19, 20-25, 25-10 and 25-18, putting an end to the Mariners’ season.

For Homer Coach Pam Rugloski, the shortcoming of failing to win a state match ultimately came down to the Mariners’ opponents simply communicating and executing more effectively.

“We ended up mixing things up a little bit, and the chemistry wasn’t quite there,” Rugloski said.

The loss ended Homer’s state run and the high school volleyball careers of PK Woo, Kelly Liebers, McKi Needham and Paige Snyder.

Junior outside hitter Mary Hana Bowe led Homer with eight kills and eight digs, Snyder added seven kills and six digs, and Woo notched six kills.

Malina Fellows had four kills, Izabelle Hagge notched 14 digs and Needham recorded 21 assists, three blocks and eight digs without a service error.

Homer found itself trailing 15-9 in the early minutes of the match, and having to dig out of a hole at a state event has proven to be a much more difficult task. The Mariners fell into a 1-0 hole.

But the scrappiness and determination that made Homer into the team it’s been over the season began to peek through. The Mariners came roaring back in the second set scoring the first 10 points, getting numerous tips to the floor while taking advantage of several Kotzebue balls going out of bounds.

“Out of those four sets, I can only remember one point that we were solid and tuned in,” Rugloski said. “When you’re up, you have to keep pushing as hard as you can.”

However, as quick as Homer was to stake out a daunting lead, the Huskies were just as quick to rally back, rapidly cutting the lead back to 10-8, then tying it up at 11-all. The Mariners managed to stretch the lead back to 19-14, forcing Kotzebue to call a timeout.

The break seemed to give Kotzebue new life, as clutch play on the front line led to a myriad of balls batted down to Homer territory, which led to the Huskies tying the set up again at 20 apiece.

Still, Homer took the set with five unanswered service points to win 25-20 and knot the match up at 1.

Kotzebue grabbed a 10-3 lead in the third set, then stretched it to 18-6 before Rugloski decided to call a timeout. The break did little as the Huskies finished up with a 7-2 run to win the set and take a 2-1 match lead, thanks to a ragged consistency that Homer assistant coach Beth Trowbridge, who last season guided the Mariners to their first state berth in 11 years, pointed out.

“They just kept the ball in play,” Trowbridge said. “And we had a lot of errors.”

With both team’s seasons on the line, Kotzebue triumphed with a clean fourth set to advance to the loser-out bracket quarterfinal round.

In the moments after the match, when looking at the overall picture of the three-month season, Rugloski pointed out that many of the players expected to return will form a solid nucleus for 2016 and beyond.

“Raisa (Basargin) will be our main setter next year, so it’s good for someone like her to come back and realize that it’s not a big deal,” Rugloski said. “You’ve just got to play your game.”