On Sept. 24, Palmer dropped to 0-4 in Northern Lights Conference play. Six weeks later, and the Moose are region champs.
Palmer beat rival Wasilla 3-1 Saturday afternoon at Soldonta High School to win the 2019 NLC title.
The victory capped a wild weekend for the fourth-seeded Moose in which they swept their way into the final. Palmer scored 3-0 wins over Kodiak, Colony and Soldotna en route to its date with Wasilla. But the run didn’t come without a curveball.
The Moose were slated to face Kodiak Thursday afternoon in first match of the tourney, but the Bears were stuck on island due to poor weather. Host Soldotna adjusted the schedule, and the Moose faced the Bears Friday morning.
“Looking at the bracket we knew there was a chance we could play three matches on Friday,” Palmer head coach Jayme DeHart said in an email Saturday night. “So the focus was to take it one match at a time.”
Or one sweep at a time.
“The girls did such a good job of preparing themselves before each separate match,” DeHart said. “They have worked really hard on mental resiliency this season and we definitely tested on it this weekend. Our region is so strong this year that it didn’t matter where we were in the bracket, we knew we were going to be playing good teams.”
Palmer followed the victory over Kodiak with a 3-0 sweep of top-seeded Colony later that afternoon. The Knights entered the tourney with a 6-2 mark. The Moose and Knights split a pair of regular season matches. That set up the third match of the day for the Moose, and Palmer responded with a 3-0 win over third-seeded Soldotna.
“Palmer, who, did they come on like nobody’s business,” Soldotna head coach Luke Baumer told the Peninsula Clarion. “When I saw how they beat Colony, I thought hopefully we can hold our own at this point.”
Palmer won its first nine sets of the tourney, and didn’t lose a game until the championship match. Wasilla, the 2018 NLC champ, opened the title match with a 10-3 run and took a lead with a 25-18 victory in Game 1.
“Saturday, we came out and got behind in the first set, but I took a timeout, reminded them to play in the really fun style they like to play and they did the rest,” DeHart said.
And Palmer was able to get back on track. The Moose won three straight sets 25-21, 25-23 and 25-23.
“Every person contributed. We wouldn’t be the same team without any one of them. It was a team effort and I am so proud of them,” DeHart said.
During Palmer’s 0-4 start to the conference season, three of those losses came with 3-2 scores. Palmer rebounded with a two-match sweep of Kodiak and wins over Colony and Wasilla to finish the regular season 4-4 in conference play.
“We finished the regular season playing well, which was encouraging, but I don’t know that the team was convinced they could win the tournament,” DeHart said. “They started to really believe. The whole team went all in at the same time, and they love each other so much it showed on the court.”
Both Palmer and Wasilla earned spots in the ASAA 4A state tournament, which starts Thursday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. Wasilla bounced back from a loss to Soldotna on the first day of the tourney, and got a little revenge with a 3-2 win over the Stars Saturday afternoon. That victory pushed the Warriors into the title match. Wasilla also beat Colony 3-0 in an elimination match Saturday morning.
Following the tournament, DeHart’s day was made even more special during the award’s ceremony. Colony head coach Steve Reynolds was voted as the NLC Coach of the Year by the coaches in the region, but he presented the award to DeHart.
“He faced a lot of adversity and still came out as the No. 1 seed, and he deserved the award,” DeHart said. “But when he went to the floor to accept it, he brought it to me. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I was overwhelmed and amazing and completely speechless, but that kind of gesture is just the kind of guy Steve is.”
A handful of Valley players were also recognized during the ceremony. Palmer’s Kelsey Giese, Kristen Beames and Talia Vilinerve; Colony’s Madison Wakaliuk and Sam Bryant; and Wasilla’s Josi Schachle and Jada Schultz were named first-team all-conference. Wasilla’s Heidi Brewer, Lily Hyce and Emily Cizek; Colony’s Bella Brown and Hallee Yundt; and Palmer’s Meagan Grogan and Deana McNutt were named to the second team.
State bracket released
Palmer will open the ASAA/First National Bank 4A State Volleyball Championships against Bartlett Thursday at 11:45 a.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. The Wasilla Warriors will face North Pole at 1:30 p.m.
Bartlett is the No. 3 seed from the Cook Inlet Conference. North Pole won the Mid-Alaska Conference.
With a win, Palmer would play either Juneau-Douglas or South Anchorage at 5:15 p.m. Thursday. With the loss, the Moose would face either Juneau or South Friday at 10 a.m. With a Wasilla win, the Warriors would face either Dimond or Soldotna Thursday at 7 p.m. A loss would put Wasilla against either Dimond or SoHi Friday at 11:45 a.m. The double-elimination tournament runs through Saturday.
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