Nov. 10—Dimond High and South Anchorage have combined to win every state volleyball title in Alaska's top division dating back to 2005.
With its performance at Thursday's Alaska State 4A Volleyball Tournament, Wasilla appears determined to break that stranglehold.
The Warriors swept Dimond 3-0 in the opening round before toppling South 3-0 in Thursday evening's winners bracket game. Wasilla was confident and aggressive in sweeping past the two perennial powerhouses.
"For me, there's no expectation," Wasilla head coach Katie Oxspring said. "There's no 'We're supposed to do this.' We just are here. We want to be dialed into what we're doing and just compete and play our game. And as long as we're doing that, it kind of speaks for itself."
The double-elimination tournament format means plenty of other teams will get a shot at the Warriors. That list includes Service and Bettye Davis East, the two teams that matched up on the other winners bracket match on Thursday.
Wasilla played well against the Anchorage-area schools during the regular season and hasn't changed its mentality playing under the lights at Alaska Airlines Center.
"To me, they're just teams," Oxspring said. "They're teams that we played all year long. This is no different just because it's in an arena setting. So that's really what it is. We're not really worried about that extra pressure. It's no different. So that's kind of how we look at it."
With an impressive 71-3 mark on the year that includes single-set tournament matches, Wasilla has become a powerhouse but has still taken on the mindset of an underdog.
"Before every single game, we talk about how teams are going to play really well against us," junior outside hitter Allison Devine said. "They're gonna work hard. So we can't just expect our win because that's not how it happens. We have to work for everyone. We have to compete. I feel like that's how we go into every game thinking we're not way better than than anyone. We've just got to play our game."
At the 3A level, Kenai Central made strides toward repeating as champion, sweeping Nome-Beltz in the opening round and toppling Valdez 3-1 in winners bracket play on Thursday. After falling 25-20 in the opening set, the Kardinals took the next three sets to advance.
"Any time you're at the state tournament, even thought you've planned for it all year long, you still get nerves," Kenai head coach Tracie Beck said. "They're just like any other teenager. A lot of the girls have been to this tournament before, and that helped them get through those tough times. I think they all just stepped up."
Kenai Central has been a state title challenger in recent years and won its first title last year. Beck said this year's team will have to earn its own wins but has gained experience from those previous successes.
"Every year is different," she said. "Even if it's the same girls it's a different identity. I think this group of girls has learned from the experiences they've had in the past. We were second at state in 2019 and in 2020 we didn't lose a set. It's those previous teams that helped us prepare for this."
Crowds were modest at Alaska Airlines Center on Thursday as a winter storm inundated Anchorage and much of Southcentral this week. While Alaska School Activities Association decided to change some game times to accommodate for travel delays, each of the teams in the 3A and 4A tournaments arrived in Anchorage by Wednesday evening.
Even the Wasilla team, which under better conditions might drive in to Anchorage each day of the tournament, is staying at a nearby Airbnb for the weekend.
"We know better now," Oxspring said. "Every single week of the state tournament for the last four years, it's been awful weather."
Alaska 4A State Tournament
At Alaska Airlines Center
Wasilla 3, Dimond 0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-13)
Service 3, West Valley 0 (25-15, 25-11, 25-16)
South 3, Thunder Mountain 0 (25-12, 25-9, 25-20)
Bettye Davis East 3, Soldotna 0 (25-13, 25-22, 25-20)
Wasilla 3, South 0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-21)
Bettye Davis East 3, Service 1 (25-21, 16-25, 25-23, 25-19)
Alaska 3A State Tournament
Kenai Central 3, Nome-Beltz 0 (25-13, 25-8, 25-17)
Valdez 3, Sitka 2 (25-11, 19-25, 25-16, 16-25, 15-6)
Mt. Edgecumbe 3, Ben Eielson 0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-12)
Nikiski 3, Barrow 0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-20)
Kenai Central 3, Valdez 1 (20-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-14)
Nikiski 3, Mt. Edgecumbe 0 (20-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-13)