Bree Johnson blocks

Ketchikan High School sophomore Bree Johnson (13) blocks against Juneau-Douglas High School setter Remi Starks, as Juneau-Douglas’ Ashley Laudert (16) and Merry Newman (10) look on, during a conference game on Friday at Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Time and time again, the Ketchikan High School girls’ volleyball team was tested this weekend — and time and time again the Lady Kings met challenges, bouncing back through adversity, on the volleyball court inside Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.

Did they always win?

No.

Did they make mistakes?

Yes.

But the improvement on the court is starting to show itself on scoreboard — one set at a time.

Kayhi hosted both Juneau-Douglas and Sitka high schools this weekend, dropping Saturday’s match against Juneau-Douglas, 3-2.

It split two games against Sitka on Saturday, winning 2-0 and losing 3-2.

“If you really think about those games, we are so close,” Kayhi head coach Kevin Johnson said after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Juneau-Douglas. “It wasn’t like they just dogged us. We had lows, and we had areas where we couldn’t pass. We had areas where we struggled with setting — both of my setters are sophomores, so they’re young.

“All of those lows — and meanwhile, we’re trying to win a conference game,” he continued.

The Lady Kings were oh-so-close several times on Saturday.

Kayhi battled back from an early deficit in the first set against Juneau-Douglas early Saturday afternoon, to win the frame 25-23 over the Crimson Bears.

The Lady Kings’ Bree Johnson was set-up by Kayhi sophomore Marley Lewis on back-to-back volleys to help Kayhi knot the set at 11 apiece.

Bree Johnson and Stevie Kamm tag teamed a block, and Alli Thomas knocked down the ensuing point to give the Lady Kings a 12-11 lead.

Later in the frame, Kayhi’s Vienna Pahang, Lindsay Byron and Bella Zink hung tough in the front against Juneau-Douglas’ line, helping give the Lady Kings a 17-14 lead.

Lady Kings libero Reilly McCue bumped it over the net from the back row, for Kayhi’s 18th point, and the First City squad hung on to slim lead the rest of the way, en route to its 25-23 victory.

But with six seniors on their roster, Juneau-Douglas didn’t waver, bouncing back for a 25-14 win in the second set, which led to a third-set showdown to break the 1-1 tie.

Kayhi won the set 25-19 to edge ahead 2-1 in the best-of-five match.

The Lady Kings pieced points together with Linnea Loretan serving, taking a 10-2 lead.

The Crimson Bears climbed closer as Merry Newman served for Juneau-Douglas, but Kayhi kept a 17-15 lead, and outscored the Crimson Bears 8-4 the rest of the frame.

But that was the last victory against Juneau-Douglas. The Crimson Bears won the fourth frame 25-17, and the fifth set 15-9.

Saturday’s match was the second straight game Kayhi and Juneau-Douglas had gone to Game 5. Juneau-Douglas won Friday’s match 3-2, as well.

“I think that one stung,” Kevin Johnson said after Saturday’s game. “It’s a tough one because we just have those little moments, and then (Juneau-Douglas would) get two or three (points), and they cost you big time.

“... Hats off to Juneau,” he continued. “They played well when they needed to play well. Game 5, I thought, Juneau — you could just tell they have more experience than us in Game 5 because they beat us twice in Game 5. Their energy levels rise in Game 5, where ours go down in Game 5.”

The Lady Kings found that energy against Sitka, during a midafternoon match on Saturday. Kayhi won the best-of-three series 2-0, taking the sets 25-19 and 26-24.

Bree Johnson served the Lady Kings to an early 8-1 lead in the first set.

Sitka inched closer, cutting its deficit to three, three different times — 9-6, 10-7 and 11-8 — but Kayhi continued to stay a step ahead.

Byron had a pair of blocks for points, and Bree Johnson was set-up by Taylor Jackson for a pair of kills.

McCue played the ball well, racing deep beyond the backline to save several volleys.

“I thought Reilly McCue played well,” Kevin Johnson said. “I think Reilly played incredible, actually, all weekend long.”

Sitka and Kayhi were neck-and-neck early in the second set, until the Lady Kings tallied three points, as Shyla Abajian served from the backline, giving Kayhi a 6-3 lead.

But the three-point lead didn’t last long, as Sitka rallied back.

Later in the frame, Byron, Jackson and Bree Johnson combined to give Kayhi a 20-18 lead. Byron’s pass was bumped to Jackson, who set it up for Bree Johnson, who flipped the ball over the net.

Loretan made a dandy dig to help Kayhi score its 22nd point, giving the Lady Kings a 22-21 lead, and Kayhi eventually won the match, 26-24.

But the two teams would play each other again Saturday night — and just like the day’s earlier match against Juneau-Douglas — Kayhi would jump out to an early 2-1 lead in the best-of-five match, but ultimately fall 3-2 to Sitka.

Kayhi won the first and third sets 25-23 and 25-16, respectively. It lost the second, fourth and fifth frames, 25-23, 25-13 and 15-9.

“I told our girls,” Kevin Johnson reflected earlier Saturday, “‘I can make excuses for you, if you want me to. I can tell you that we’re on so many games; I could tell you that we’re young.’

“I said, ‘Or I can coach you, and I can tell you what I believe we can do better to win,’” he continued. “And our girls want to be coached to win. And that’s where we’re at. We’re getting there.”

It is true.

The Lady Kings don’t have a senior on roster, and are relying on their three juniors — Byron, McCue and Thomas — to play double duty as team leaders, while learning the role themselves, each moment they step on the court.

And the Lady Kings have played 18 varsity games in the last two weeks — not counting any JV games several Lady Kings on roster also have played.

But even through that, Kayhi is in the midst of turning a corner.

“People have to realize Sitka used to beat us — over the last couple years — Sitka would beat us 25-5,” Kevin Johnson said. “Even Juneau. Juneau would three-piece us in three games.”

That didn’t happen this weekend.

“Overall, we took Juneau to Game 5 twice,” he said. “Having come from usually getting beat in three games, to being able to take them to Game 5, I’m OK with that.”

And Kevin Johnson knows it won’t be the last time, either.

“The great thing about (the) Southeast (tournament) is that it’s here this year,” he said. “And that won’t be the last time people get to see us play Juneau or Thunder Mountain. It won’t be the last time. I promise. We’ll be OK.”