Story last updated at 3:57 p.m. Thursday, November 21, 2002

Mariner V-ballers finish 5th
by Sepp Jannotta Staff Writer
and Will Morrow Morris News Service-Alaska

When the 2002 Homer High School volleyball players remember this season, they will remember Friday's Class 4A State Championship semifinal loss to the never-say-die Bartlett Golden Bears.

They will remember the two-and-a-half hour, five-game epic for all the right reasons, said coach Beth Trowbridge.

Sure it was agonizing. The Mariners squandered a 2-0 lead in games only to fall in five (13-15, 9-15, 15-3, 15-9, 17-15).

But it was also thrilling, with enough momentum changes to keep everyone in the West Anchorage High gym on the edge of their seats.

Trowbridge said the most memorable thing about the game was the way the Mariners refused to fold after Bartlett ran off with games 3 and 4.

"Something just clicked," she said. "And they just decided that they didn't want to go down that way."

Each team served for the match during the final game. The Mariners fought back from deficits of 7-1 and 14-9 to take the lead at 15-14.

"We just got outplayed," Trowbridge said. "I didn't at all feel like we let down. We were playing a good team. It's to (Bartlett's) credit."

On Saturday, the Mariners found themselves playing Palmer in the third-place game. While the Mariners came up short, losing in four games, they had one of their better efforts against a talented Palmer squad, while in the title match, Bartlett fell to undefeated Juneau-Douglas in four games.

"I thought we played pretty well -- we're fifth in state. That's pretty good," Mariner setter Sara Thompson said.

Against the Moose, the Mariners reverted to the strategy that had worked for them all season -- lose the first game.

Homer rallied to win the second game 15-11, with Chelsea Ward notching a kill, one of her 23 in the match, for game point.

The Mariners continued to challenge the Moose through games 3 and 4, but Palmer won 15-5 and 15-10 to take the match and third place in the tournament.

"I feel good -- we gave it our all," Holly McCune said after a big sigh. "The game (Friday) night was real emotional, real physical. We gave it our all.

"Today, we came out and said, 'We're going to give them a game.' We played them the best we've played them this season."

Throughout the tournament, the Mariners had plenty to be proud about.

The serving of Nami Sato keyed the Mariners three-game sweep of West Valley in Thursday's opening-round match. Using her distinctive roundhouse serve, Sato notched three aces during an eight-point run in the first game. She nailed another ace during the six-point run that closed out the match.

Trowbridge also noted the aggressive net play of Chrissy Eller.

Ward had a colossal game against the Golden Bears, smashing a season-high 37 kills and adding 28 digs. McCune tallied a career-best 24 kills. McCune and Thompson each had 26 digs, and sophomore Bailey Lowney added 23.

Lowney had another stellar defensive day against Palmer, contributing 23 digs, while Sarah Manalisay dropped in three aces.

McCune said she hoped this year's success would be the start of a new tradition for Homer volleyball.

"I think we've put some enthusiasm and raw drive back into the sport," McCune said. "We may not be the most talented or the most dedicated, but when it comes down to it, we work hard. I'm proud of the whole team."

Trowbridge said the future certainly looks bright for the Mariners.

"I felt we were competitive throughout the tournament, and that was exciting," Trowbridge said. "And I've got such young players. For them, this is going to be a valuable experience. I'm glad to be here, but I'm almost more excited for what it's going to be next year."

In what Trowbridge said was a clear sign of the team's growth this season, the Mariners won the tournament's sportsmanship award.

"If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season if Homer could be one of the top five teams in the state, no offense, but no way," said McCune. "We've definitely had our dramas."

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at Will Morrow is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.