The big takeaway from Saturday’s varsity volleyball match between the Kayhi Lady Kings and the Thunder Mountain Falcons was that this Kayhi team doesn’t quit.
After getting walloped 25-4 in the first set by a talented TMHS squad filled with veteran players, the Lady Kings’ scrappy group of youngsters stayed in the match, making the visitors earn the next two sets by scores of 25-17 each.
“I’m proud of these girls,” Kayhi coach Arnold Ibias said after the home match at the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium, noting that the Lady Kings also had played well Friday in two of three sets against a strong TMHS team.
“Thunder Mountain, they’re top five in the state for a reason,” he said. “They’re a solid team. They pass well, they serve well, they hit well. The positive for us is we played with them for two games, last night and tonight. One game each (match, they beat us) pretty bad but we played with them the other games. And the best part about this group is they don’t want to give up.”
Saturday’s first set was a tough one for the Lady Kings, whose four points in the 25-4 set loss came from two TMHS service errors, a hitting error (one) and a net violation. TMHS meanwhile, served up eight aces and hit four kills.
Kayhi’s defense tightened in the second set, with some good passing from players such as Bella Westfall-Zink, Kylie Brendible and libero Brenna Winder.
The score stood at a close 7-5 in Thunder Mountain’s favor before the Falcons widened their margin to 19-9. Then a service error by TMHS senior standout Moana Tuvaifale handed the ball over to Kayhi’s Taylor Jackson — who promptly served three consecutive aces.
Kayhi had a good rally on the next point, which went the way of the Falcons, who then ran the score up to set point on three aces by Jenna Dobson and a kill by Samantha Mead.
Although down 24-13, the Lady Kings weren’t calling it quits. A kill by Westfall-Zink gave the serve to Kayhi, with Brendible at the line. Thunder Mountain then committed three straight hitting errors, and, with the momentum shifting in Kayhi’s favor, TMHS coach Julie Herman called a time out with the score at 24-17.
On the next point, Westfall-Zink had a block at the net, but a later Kayhi hitting error concluded the set with a 25-17 TMHS win.
In the third set, Kayhi found itself quickly down 4-0 but rallied to tie the set at 7-7 and again at 8-8. Westfall-Zink recorded an ace in that stretch, which saw some good play from Molly Sivertsen and Brendible. The next few points also had solid efforts from Chelsey Weber and Westfall-Zink, whose tip-in score kept the Lady Kings close at 12-10.
Thunder Mountain then went on an 11-1 run before a four-hit miscue gave the service back to Kayhi with the score at 23-12.
With Kayhi’s Chloe Larna serving, the Lady Kings began another comeback, getting a hitting error from TMHS and a block by Sivertsen. Thunder Mountain got the service back with the score at set and match point, but, again, Kayhi wasn’t backing down.
On the next point, quick reflexes by Kayhi’s Winder and Payton Hagan kept play alive before Jackson secured the point, 24-15.
The next two serves from the Lady Kings’ Arlinn Felarca proved problematic for Thunder Mountain, and Kayhi again had some momentum with a score at 24-17.
That’s as close at they would get, however, and the Falcons came away with the 25-17 win.
After the match, Ibias focused on the positive.
“There’s moments that give us hope that we are getting better,” he said. “And the best part about it is they’re willing to listen, and I think they trust me and the process that we have.”
It’s been an unusual season for Kayhi. Ibias, who’s from Juneau and is a former head coach of Thunder Mountain, began coaching the Kayhi squad after the season was already underway. The varsity roster now includes three juniors, three sophomores and six to seven freshmen.
Ibias said that he’s working to learn about the players’ skills and how best to use those skills in various game situations. He said that he’s asked the players for their trust, “because I’m trying to figure where each of you can fit into this and give us the best opportunity to win.”
He added that the Lady Kings are a fun group of players, and he’s proud of their spirit.
“They may get down themselves just a hair, but they never give up,” Ibias said. “They’re always willing to battle, and that’s all you can ask is, keep battling.
Looking ahead, Ibias said that the team will be working hard on speeding up its transition game and on defensive skills for situations when the ball is low to the ground.
They’ll be traveling to Juneau this next weekend for the Juneau Jive tournament that has teams from around the state.
Ibias is looking forward to the tournament.
“Thunder Mountain has won it for like six years, and we’re going to do our best to take that from them,” he said.
Kayhi and Thunder Mountain played JV and C level matches on Saturday at the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.
The Falcons won the JV match by set scores of 25-15, 25-10 and 25-19. Kayhi’s C team prevailed in four sets, 25-18, 28-15, 25-7 and 25-22.