Despite stormy weather over the weekend, volleyball teams from the Bering Strait School District made it to St. Michael, where they duked it out at the Western Conference Mixed-Six Volleyball Tournament. “Mixed-six” volleyball features six-player, co-ed teams.
Coming off a first-place finish the previous weekend at the Unalakleet Smash Classic, the Unalakleet Wolfpack fought to victory. Their coach, Nick Hanson, says it was a tournament for the books:
“This group of BSSD teams is probably the strongest that I’ve seen since I started playing volleyball in 2004. The gym was constantly just on edge, every single match. You know, Unalakleet was just — as a six on the court, we just happened to have that fluidity that it takes to be a full six-on-the-court team that was able to pull the championship out.”
They pulled it out in a riveting first-place match, defeating the Shishmaref Northern Lights in four sets. After the Northern Lights won the second set, Hansen says it was a moment of reckoning:
“Shishmaref could have easily just taken all over, but my team pulled it back together. I looked at my captain, Arctic Ivanoff, and just said, ‘Hey, bring them together.’ And he did it. They really stepped up, they started defending the net, they started moving more, Nathan Ivanoff started hitting the ball again. And it was just like, all of a sudden, we started looking like that team that we have been all season. They pulled it off, and I’m super proud of them.”
After losing to Unalakleet, Shishmaref then had its own rally in a midnight second-place match against the White Mountain Wolves, a match that went to five sets. Shishmaref coach Shaun Milligan says he called a time-out in the last set:
“I explained to them that they had to really go on the attack if they wanted to pull this out. And then they ended the last two points of that set by doing very strong attacks up front, which really sort of symbolized how we had been winning all year long, so it was nice to end on that note.”
Milligan says winning the match and advancing to state means a lot for several reasons:
“We had made a goal at the beginning of the season that we wanted to go to state after a disappointing loss to White Mountain last year, which made it even harder, I think, in their minds, to win this year. It was the first time we’d beat White Mountain, I know, in at least the past two years, so to do it twice in one weekend was a big achievement.”
Shishmaref pulled off a narrow 16–14 win in that final set, against a formidable opponent. White Mountain finished in first place in the regular season. And among the team’s ranks was Josh Prentice, whose performance earned him a spot on the All-Tournament Team as well as both the Top Attacker and Top Defender awards.
White Mountain coach Irving Ashenfelter has no regrets. “Our Wolves peaked at the right time,” he says, “left it all on the court, and walked off knowing they gave it their best shot.”
The results were an upset for the Golovin Lynx, who have advanced to state 16 out of the past 17 years. Despite finishing second in the regular season, the Lynx settled for fourth place this weekend after a close loss to White Mountain.
As the top two teams, Unalakleet and Shishmaref will represent the conference at the State Mixed-Six/2A Tournament in Anchorage November 30th through December 1st.
Image at top: Shishmaref and White Mountain go head to head at the BSSD Mixed-Six Volleyball Tournament (Photo courtesy of Irving Ashenfelter, 2017).