Kenai, SoHi and Nikiski were in town Saturday for the Homer High School Volleyball Jamboree, a “great beginning to the season,” according to Mariner Head Coach Beth Trowbridge.
“It’s exciting to see the teams in the gym and to give the girls the opportunity to get on the court and get a feel for where they are at and work out some kinks,” said Trowbridge. “It is an energetic, dynamic atmosphere so it is exciting to parents, players and coaches and really gets things off to a good start.”
The gym rang with athletes’ shouts and fans’ cheers as varsity teams played on one court and junior varsity competed on another. In the morning’s round-robin play, Homer varsity lost to Kenai, 21-8 and 21-16; and to Nikiski, 21-8 and 21-10. In the afternoon’s single-elimination play, the Mariners faced the SoHi Stars, winning 25-20 in the first game of the set before the Stars turned the tables and took control, winning 25-16 and 15-11.
“The (Homer) varsity team finished fourth behind SoHi, Kenai and Nikiski, but all three of those teams are strong in their regions and Nikiski will be major competition for Homer,” said Trowbridge. “We are glad to see them now and get a feel for what we need to improve on over the next few months.”
SoHi finished first among the four teams, losing only one set during round-robin play in the morning. In the afternoon, they lost the first game in the set against Homer, with Homer coming onto the court “strong and confident and had improved on our communication and aggressiveness,” said Trowbridge. “A big difference for us during that match was that we were able to cut down on our hitting errors and be a much better offensive team. Earlier in the day, hitting errors and sending over too many free balls hurt us.”
Improved on-court communication also boosted the Mariners’ performance, giving them increased cohesiveness and better movement, and the ability to focus on defense and converting plays.
“Larsen Fellows and McKi Needham led the team as setters during the varsity games and both were the strongest in their hitting, serving and digging,” said Trowbridge.
Fellows and Needham led with four serving aces each, Fellows also had five blocks and Needham had three.
“They both played great defense with 13 digs each,” said Trowbridge.
Kyla Pitzman led with kills for the day.
“She struggled with consistency early on, but found a rhythm in the final match against SoHi where she had six of her eight kills for the day,” said Trowbridge. “She also led the team in blocks with seven and had 30 digs for the day.”
In the Mariners’ final game, Maryhana Bowe served two aces and a 90 percent serving, plus six kills for the day. Maggie Larue, who spent the day playing defensive specialist, led the team with 100 percent serving, two aces and 60 digs.
The Mariner C and JV teams combined forces and finished fourth, battling hard against the SoHi JV team in the single elimination round.
“We were still in a position of having some girls not eligible to play due to missed practices or injuries, so we had some JV players playing on the varsity team and some C-team players getting valuable playing time and experience on the JV team,” said Trowbridge.
The combinations gave Homer players opportunities to work out rotations and positioning. The Jamboree was a sort of practice tournament Homer holds at the beginning of volleyball season. Scores don’t count toward match limits of the Mariners’ record.
“It is an opportunity for teams to practice in a glorified scrimmage and figure out systems and players, etc.,” said Trowbridge. “Kenai and Soldotna are 4A schools and no longer in our conference, although we will play them during the season in nonconference matches.”
Nikiski is in Homer’s conference, so the two teams will find themselves face-to-face across the net during the season. Also in the conference are Anchorage Christian School, Grace Christian School, Houston, Cordova and Seward. Homer will play each of the teams once at home and once away.
This is Trowbridge’s 13th year coaching Homer High volleyball. She has two new assistant coaches. Chris Gorny, a JV-assistant coach, is here from Salt Lake City, Utah. Gorny is a coach for the Gold Medal Squared program, the national camp that came to Homer the past three years during pre-season. He coaches in the club volleyball program in the winter, has coached college-level volleyball and has experience playing at Brigham Young University, where his team was top in the National Tournament.
“So, we are excited to have someone of his caliber helping with the program this year,” said Trowbridge.
Lauren Childers, a Homer High teacher, is coaching the C team.
“She brings a lot of enthusiasm to the program and an interest in learning more about coaching while enjoying playing (volleyball) as an adult, as well,” said Trowbridge.
Thirty girls turned out for Mariner volleyball this year. Trowbridge and her assistant coaches are still working out the wrinkles for the season, determining who will play where. Some of the athletes will play on two levels. Ten of the 30 are new; eight of the 10 are freshmen and two are new to the sport.
While Trowbridge recognized that consistency is the team’s biggest challenge and is focusing on better communication and faster transitions, she recognized their determination and willingness to work hard and learn.
“They get along well and the chemistry is very positive and strong. They will be a strong serving team and will bring the desire to do their best to the court both in practice and competition,” said Trowbridge, who looks forward to competitive season.
“We hope folks come out to see us play,” said Trowbridge. “The girls are working hard and the games are exciting to watch.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch them play
Homer v. Seward
C Team @ 4 p.m.
JV Team @ 5 p.m.
V Team @ 6:30 p.m.
Homer v. ACS
C Team @ 11 a.m.
JV Team @ Noon
V Team @ 1:30 p.m.