Story last updated at 1:17 p.m. Thursday, November 14, 2002

Mariner spikers net firs state tourney berth in 10 years.
by Sepp Jannotta Staff Writer
and Will Morrow Morris News Service-Alaska

photo: sports

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
The Homer High School volleyball teampis fans make some noise during the Marinerspi second-round region tournament match against Palmer at Skyview High School on Friday. The Mariners lost the match 3-0 but recovered with a pair of wins on Saturday to qualify for the state volleyball tournament.  
It's been a long time coming, but this week the Homer High School volleyball team is heading back to the State 4A Volleyball Championships in Anchorage.

"It's kind of been our goal since last year," said Homer senior Holly McCune. "We know we have the talent and the ability to (make state), it's just a matter of having all six players showing up to play."

The last time the Mariners qualified for state was 1993, when they placed second in their second season playing a 4A schedule.

Homer clinched its 4A state berth this time around by knocking off Soldotna on Saturday to clinch third place in the Region III/4A tournament at Skyview High School. Coach Beth Trowbridge said the win put to rest some of the Mariners' past region frustrations.


  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Photo by Sep Jannotta, Homer News Sara Thompson goes for a dig during the Mariners' second-round Region III Volleyball tournament loss to Palmer on Friday at Skyview.  
"They just stepped way up," Trowbidge said of her team. "It's the first time we've played on a Saturday (at regions.) Usually we're shopping on Saturday."

SoHi came out strong in the third-place match, recording a 15-5 win over the Mariners in the first game.

As it turned out, the Mariners had the Stars right where they wanted them en route to a 3-1 victory.

"We always lose the first game," said Homer's Chelsea Ward. "It's kind of a tradition, I guess. Then it's kind of like reality sets in.

"(Losing the first game) pretty much just gets us fired up and ready to play. It's a warm-up, I guess."

While it wasn't exactly the warm-up Trowbridge was hoping for, it worked. After dropping the first game, Homer came back to handily win three straight, 15-5, 15-5, 15-2.

Ward led the way for the Mariners with 30 kills while teammate Holly McCune recorded 13 kills and mixed in five aces with her steady service game.

Nami Sato chipped in with three ace serves, and setter Sara Thompson had 39 set-assists.

The Mariners made it to the third-place match by defeating Colony 15-2, 15-5, 15-12 in Saturday morning's consolation-bracket semifinals. The Stars defeated Kodiak 15-3, 15-11, 15-13 in their consolation semifinal.

The Stars played gamely to the end, but never got the momentum to swing back their way after the first game.

"Usually in the first game, we're pretty sloppy. We're all really nervous and we're not playing smart, we're just playing kill the ball," Ward said. "Usually in the second and third games, we're playing smart, putting the ball down the lines or swinging for a spot and putting the ball somewhere where it will be a kill."

Trowbridge said that type of smart play was a necessity against Soldotna, which had strong play in the middle from Rachel Besse and solid outside hitting from Hillary Zobeck.

Ward said Saturday's match was the best the Mariners had put together as a team.

"The thing I was surprised about was that we played better in this match than we've ever played together," Ward said. "We played like a well-oiled machine. It was just amazing to me how awesome everybody was doing today. I don't think anyone was having an off game."

The Mariners play on Saturday was an important turnaround after a tough 3-0 defeat to eventual runner-up Palmer on Friday night.

"It didn't drag them down because they felt that they played hard but that they just got outplayed by Palmer," Trowbridge said.

She added that her team knew it needed to improve its serving and passing if it wanted to win on Saturday.

Overall, the Mariners finished the tourney with a 3-1 record, during which Ward compiled 80 kills, seven aces, 46 digs and 12 solo blocks. McCune posted 38 kills, eight aces, and 47 digs, while Thompson had eight aces, 112 assists and 39 digs. Chrissy Eller had a break-out tournament, Trowbridge said, as she had seven solo blocks in the middle.

The Mariners state tournament adventure begins tonight with a 5:15 p.m. opening-round match against Fairbanks' West Valley High School.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer

Will Morrow is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.