Taylor Jackson and Jenae Rhoads defend

Ketchikan High School's Taylor Jackson (10) and Jenae Rhoads (33) defend against Thunder Mountain's Moana Tuvaifale (12) and Sydney Strong (11) during a conference varsity volleyball match on Friday inside Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

In between the first and second sets of Saturday’s volleyball matchup between Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain high schools, Kayhi head coach Kevin Johnson let his players know to keep their heads up.

The Lady Kings dropped the opening set 25-22, in a back-and-forth battle that had a similar result as Friday night’s first set.

And he didn’t want to let history repeat itself.

“We go up,” he could be heard saying during the Lady Kings’ huddle between sets. “Yesterday, we went down. Today, we go up.”

Indeed, the Lady Kings had dropped the opening set of Friday night’s matchup against Thunder Mountain by nearly an identical score — 25-23 — and Kayhi struggled to score the entire second set, falling behind 8-0 before it was able to put a point on the board in the second frame.

Kayhi lost Friday night’s second set 25-7, and fell 3-0 in its home opener match.

Johnson didn’t want his Lady Kings to fall behind again.

“Thunder Mountain has had the tradition of beating us for the last six years (or so),” Johnson said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss. “They have that mental edge.

“We can play with them, and we know we can,” he continued. “But we don’t know if we can beat them. Where, they know they can play with us and they can beat us. So until we get over that spot where we put it together and beat them, it’s kind of like a question mark.”

That question mark was answered in Saturday’s second set.

Kayhi can play with Thunder Mountain.

The Lady Kings jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the second frame Saturday, and stretched its lead to 5-1 and 8-2, before Thunder Mountain started to tip the scoreboard in its direction.

Kayhi’s Alli Thomas scored three of the eight points, including a service ace that landed inside the line near Thunder Mountain’s bench.

Kayhi would win the set 25-23.

“Those first two games, it was back (and forth) — and through the whole series, it was fairly competitive,” Johnson said. “But that’s what we were talking about, even (on Friday).

“It wasn’t a great surprise that we went 25-23 that first game (on Friday), for me,” he continued. “But it was for our kids. So then we went way up, and then all of a sudden our emotions went way down. We crashed. ... Tons of roller coasters in a game.”

Ultimately, Thunder Mountain won Saturday’s matchup 3-1, taking the third and fourth sets by the same score — 25-16.

But Kayhi’s victory in the second set proved that the first frame in both games was no fluke.

“We made some adjustments to what they did today,” Johnson said. “We switched some people around. (Friday) night, we couldn’t block, and it was a free-for-all for (Thunder Mountain). It was a bad combination (on Friday) — we couldn’t block and we couldn’t pass very well. That’s a deadly combination. So today, we made some adjustments, some blocking adjustments, and it was a better overall game.”

After Thunder Mountain cut Kayhi’s lead in half, 8-4, in the second set, the Lady Kings’ Reilly McCue helped Kayhi regain possession with a pair of digs that saved the point.

Kayhi took a 9-4 lead, and tacked on another point to make it 10-4 before Thunder Mountain brought the ball back on its side.

With the Falcons’ Molly Brocious serving from the backline, Thunder Mountain inched closer — 10-9. But a hard hit from Kayhi’s Lindsay Byron that landed inside the baseline gave the Lady Kings an 11-9 lead.

“There’s also that ‘edge’ part of it because it’s a roller coaster game,” Johnson said. “We’re still pretty young on the back half.

“Today we had four sophomores and two freshmen in our varsity game,” he continued. “Shyla Abajian and Vienna Pahang are freshmen. Linnea (Loretan),  Bree (Johnson), Taylor (Jackson), Marley (Lewis) and Stevie (Kamm) — they’re all sophomores. And we’re still without one of our players.

“Even though we got beat both days by them, I still believe we’re the team to beat, and the reason I’m saying that is because we’re the youngest team.”

Thunder Mountain tied Kayhi 11-11 in the second set before the two teams started to go back and forth.

Thunder Mountain took a brief 12-11 lead, before Kayhi tied it 12-12 — albeit with the help of the basketball scaffolding that was lifted high above the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium floor.

Thunder Mountain then took a 14-12 lead, and Kayhi rallied back.

Bree Johnson smacked the ball down, finding open ground, to give the Lady Kings possession again, 13-12. And Abajian tied it, 14-14, with a left-handed touch that was placed perfectly, away from Thunder Mountain defenders.

The back-and-forth affair continued, as Thunder Mountain and Kayhi were tied 17-17 a few moments later.

Thunder Mountain was unable to return a serve from Kayhi’s Thomas, and the Lady Kings inched ahead 18-17.

Bryon used her right hand to make it 20-17, finding open space through Thunder Mountain’s defenders.

As the set continued, Kayhi’s Jenae Rhoads broke a 22-22 tie, blocking Thunder Mountain’s hit that bounced back over to Thunder Mountain, but the Falcons weren’t able to return.

The block gave the Lady Kings a 23-22 lead, and Kayhi won the point a few minutes later.

“This is a journey,” Johnson said. “Is this Thunder Mountain series important? Yes. Was it ‘the’ game? No. It’s ‘a’ game.

“No matter what happens, you just have to remember it’s just a game,” he continued. “‘The’ game will be here on Nov. 11 in regions. That’s ‘the’ game.

“That’s the mindset we have, so that’s kind of how we’re going through this thing,” Johnson said. “... We definitely got better this weekend.”

Fans in the stands

As part of a “high risk spectator pilot program” the Ketchikan School District allowed a limited number of spectators inside Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium during this weekend’s series against Thunder Mountain.

Only those spectators who presented a ticket were allowed inside. Ticketing was not open to the general public; each participant in the activity was given five tickets to give to family members or close friends.

The attendees were masked and spaced out throughout both sides of the upper-level bleachers inside the gymnasium.