Mixing it up in volleyball

A four-school mixed-six volleyball tournament kept the Nikolaevsk Warriors gym ringing last Friday and Saturday as the Tanalian Lynx, Kodiak ESS Ravens and Seldovia Sea Otters traveled into Warrior territory.

The Ravens — a co-op team representing Akhiok, Karluk, Old Harbor, Port Lions, Larsen Bay and Ouzinkie — earned the tournament’s first-place crown, with second-place going to the Warriors. The all-tournament team included:

Rainy Bircher, Kodiak;

Josh Blom, Tanalian;

Chance Haller, Seldovia;

Kilina Klaich, Nikolaevsk;

Felemon Molodih, Nikolaevsk;

Cody Robustellini, Kodiak;

Greg Trail, Nikolaevsk;

Olivia Turner, Seldovia.

“It was a fun and competitive tournament,” said Nikolaevsk Head Coach Bea Klaich. “I was pleased with how hard my kids played.”

After losing to Kodiak 15-13 on Saturday, Nikolaevsk faced Tanalian for second place.

“My kids were determined not to lose second place and won decidedly in the sets,” said Klaich. “Losing a match early on is not necessarily a bad thing. I think my team will be more determined to work hard in practice the next two weeks and beat Kodiak when they come back to our next tournament on Nov. 7-8.”
Junior varsity teams also got into the action, with Nikolaevsk’s JV team beating Kodiak two out of three games, “so basically the (Nikolaevsk) JV split with Kodiak JV since they lost in 3 on Friday night,” said Klaich.

In addition to thanking officials Madeline Thompson and Merlin Cordes; Pam Vanhoosier for her in-building help; and the parents’ contributions of food; Klaich also recognized the teams who came by ferry and plane for the tournament. In addition to the multiple villages represented by the Kodiak EES Ravens, the Tanalian team traveled to Nikolaevsk from the Lake Clark region.

“Great sportsmanship was displayed on and off the court,” said Klaich.

In 2009, lacking enough girls to make a volleyball team, Klaich was faced with the decision of dropping the sport from the small school’s activities or creating a co-ed team to play mixed six.

“I looked at mixed six a little hesitantly, but decided to give it a try,” said Klaich. “I thought we’d have a year or two and then go back to an all-girls team.”

The first year was a learning experience for Klaich as well as the team.

By the second, then third, and then fourth year, Klaich found she loved coaching mixed six.

“The dynamics of boys and girls on the court had a unifying effect in the school atmosphere,” she said. “It gave the boys something to do because they didn’t have anything between cross-country and basketball. It spilled over into the classroom. Now, the boys are more respectful, more supporting because the girls are their teammates on volleyball. They’re here supporting not just the girls or boys teams, but ‘our’ team. It really has its benefits. Our school quickly found out it was actually a lot of fun.” 

 In mixed six, the net is set at 7 feet, 11 inches, seven inches higher than where it’s set for all-girls volleyball.

“The boys can really hit hard, block and get in a lot of net play,” said Klaich. “Some of the girls hit occasionally, but an almost eight-foot net makes it difficult for the girls to be the hitters and blockers, but everybody has a role. The girls play really good defense and setting up the ball. They all work together.”

As Nikolaevsk’s mixed-six skill has grown, so have the number of schools across the state now participating in the sport.

“It’s getting so popular that some conferences have 10, 11 teams,” said Klaich. “Right now, nine teams from around the state go to state competition. 

Nikolaevsk has been runner-up conference champion every year except 2009, the year they first formed a mixed-six team. 

“Finally we won the conference championship last year and went to state. We ended up fourth out of nine teams last year,” said Klaich.”

Nikolaevsk varsity and junior varsity scrimmaged with Homer at Nikolaevsk on Wednesday. The varsity team plays at Cook Inlet Academy today. Next week’s games include:

Nov. 3: Community scrimmage at Nikolaevsk, 6 p.m.

Nov. 6: Nikolaevsk varsity vs. Cook Inlet Academy at Nikolaevsk, 5:30 p.m.

Nov. 7-8: Nikolaevsk Invitational, including Kodiak ESS, Fort Yukon and Anderson.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.