In their first appearance at the Class 3A state volleyball championship since 2015, the Homer volleyball team came away in fourth place with a 2-2 showing before they were eliminated. The Nikiski Bulldogs went on to win the state final against Valdez, the school’s first state title since 2000.
Valdez, the defending 3A state champion, was the first team Homer faced off against last weekend at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. The Mariners fell in that first match 3-1. Senior Brianna Hetrick was named player of the game for that match. Homer lost 10-25, 25-14, 26-28 and 23-25.
The Mariners then went on to sweep the Barrow Whalers 3-0, with set scores of 25-14, 25-20 and 26-24.
Homer moved out to an 8-1 lead in the first set, with Marina Carroll picking up a handful of service points. Laura Inama later led an 8-2 run with a string of service points to push the lead to 18-6.
The Whalers’ Jordan Ahgeak chipped in several points to get Barrow started fast in the second set. The Whalers led 16-13 before Homer came on strong with more of Carroll’s service game. The Mariners scored six straight points with two Carroll serves and two Tonda Smude smashes at the net to grab the lead and push it to 19-16 before Barrow called timeout. Inama put Homer at set point with a serve that Barrow failed to return, and Smude and Karmyn Gallios ended it with a stuff block to give the Mariners a 2-0 match lead.
A bevy of Homer mistakes in the third set led to Barrow leading 22-16, but the Mariners staged a late comeback to take it. Barrow led 23-19, just two points away from forcing a fourth set, before Homer netted five consecutive points to take match point at 24-23. A kill by Trinity Manu tied it at 24, but a misplay at the net gave Homer match point yet again, and this time the Mariners delivered with a stuff block by Inama and Carroll.
Later on Friday, the Mariners came out victorious in a tight five-set match against Monroe Catholic, which Homer won 3-2. The set scores were 25-19, 21-25, 20-25, 25-16 and 15-13
After falling into a 2-1 deficit only to rally back by winning the two final sets, Homer coach Sara Pennington told the Peninsula Clarion that often the biggest obstacle standing in the Mariners’ way is themselves, but her squad was able to pull through when the time called for it.
“Sometimes it’s all mental and we just freak out, and when we go into a hole, we can’t get out of it,” Pennington said. “I blame that (mentality) on our losses; sometimes we just can’t shake off our mistakes.
“I thought it was a mental improvement to come back from down 2 to 1.”
Monroe went up 4-0 in the final set and later took leads of 10-6 and 12-9, just three points away from a match win, but two straight shots fell out for the Rams, setting up Homer to tie it at 12-all on a serve point by Smude.
Carroll lifted Homer into match point with a stinging kill, and the Mariners secured the win when a Monroe player sent the ball into the netting.
After taking a 1-0 match lead following the first set, Homer started slow in the second, giving up an 8-2 lead to Monroe before calling timeout. The Mariners fought back to take a brief 17-16 lead, but the Rams’ Abigail Adam caught fire with several points on stealthy hitting, helping the Rams to a 22-18 lead and eventually the set win.
Monroe then rallied in the third set to take a 2-1 match lead, as Homer led early 12-8. Monroe tied it with Homer at 19 apiece, then won six of the last seven points, helped by strong serving by Tia Campanelli, to win the set and go up 2-1 in the match.
Marina Carroll helped Homer blast out to a 7-0 lead in the fourth set with her service game. Homer took leads of 13-4 and 19-7 before Carroll wrapped it up with three straight points on a kill and two serves, tying the match up and forcing a fifth set.
It was next that Homer faced Valdez once more, losing 3-0 in the elimination bracket final with scores of 15-25, 22-25 and 17-25. Valdez went on to face Nikiski in the finals. The Bulldogs had lost the tournament’s scheduled title match 3-1, which triggered an “if-necessary” single-set game, in which the first team to 30 points would win. Nikiski came out victorious at 30-22.
Homer’s Carroll was named to the All-Tournament team along with Hetrick. Nikiski players Bethany Carstens, Kelsey Clark and Kaitlyn Johnson were also named to the team.