Top team in their conference, the Nikolaevsk Warriors wound up the mixed six volleyball season not only with a trip to state competition in Anchorage last week, but with the second place crown.
Coming back-to-back with conference play in Kodiak the weekend before, the Warriors already were tired by the time they got to Anchorage Dec. 11.
“Thursday I had a hard time getting the kids to play well. They had ridden on the bus all day and were ‘dead’ on their feet,” said Head Coach Bea Klaich of one of the biggest challenges faced by the team during the three-day state tournament. “The other challenge was learning to play against big boys who could really jump high and hit the ball hard. I had to make my kids believe that they could block them and play with them.”
Whatever Klaich told her team, it worked. Nikolaevsk began the nine-team, three-pool tournament with a match against Tanalian, the Warriors winning 25-21 and 25-13. That advanced Nikolaevsk to a match-up against Akiachak, and the two teams split that match with scores of Akiachak 25, Nikolaevsk 18; and Nikolaevsk 25, Akiachak 18. That victory was enough to give the Warriors the no. 1 spot in their pool.
“Friday, the eight-team bracket was set and we opened at 2:15 p.m. with Scammon Bay and won 3-1,” said Klaich. Individual games scores were 25-16, 25-10 and 25-19. “This win put us in the evening semi-final against Nunamiut.”
The Warriors again came out on top, winning three of four games 25-20, 25-20 and 25-19; and Nunamiut winning one 25-20.
It’s exactly what was needed to put Nikolaevsk in the championship game against Gustavus, who had beat the defending mixed six champion, Unalakleet. It was the first time this season the two teams had competed against each other, but not the first time the teams have met.
“Gustavus was in our pool play at state last year. We split them in pool play 1-1 then ended up meeting them and beating them in our second match that advanced us to the fourth-place match which we won last year,” said Klaich. “We did not play them this year, but were familiar with them from last year. They are real nice kids and coaches and have a great team.”
In the five-game match, the Warriors battled for two wins, but Gustavus claimed three and the state championship. Individual game scores were:
Nikolaevsk 25, Gustavus 20;
Gustavus 25, Nikolaevsk 21
Gustavus 25, Nikolaevsk 15;
Nikolaevsk 26, Gustavus 24
Gustavus 15, Nikolaevsk 12
“Seeing my kids compete at a high level at the championship match was an amazing feeling,” said Klaich. “I really don’t think my kids realized that they could play volleyball at a high level. It was very satisfying to see the kids play hard and keep believing they could win. It was a very positive way to end the season, and I think the kids will be ready for another State run next year.”
Nikolaevsk athletes receiving special recognition at the state tournament were:
Greg Trail: player of the match in the championship match;
Felemon Molodia: best defensive player of the tournament;
Jonah Fefelov and Serafima Kalugin: All-tournament team.
Next up for Nikolaevsk is basketball.
“We have been running double practices for two weeks, volleyball and basketball,” said Reynolds. “Our school tends to lean heavily toward basketball as our No. 1 sport, however the kids did a great job focusing on finishing vollyball strong.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.