Mt. Edgecumbe players and coaches celebrate Class 3A state championship / Photo credit ASAA
The Mt. Edgecumbe volleyball team worked overtime to win the Class 3A state title.
The Braves had to defeat Grace Christian once and then knock off Nikiski twice on the final day of the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska state tournament to continue the program’s championship tradition.
“I feel like we found our mojo at the end of the season, especially in the state final,” Mt. Edgecumbe senior Rachelle Persson told me. “That’s where we played our best. We were really in sync with each other.”
Saturday saw the Braves start their day with a four-set win in an elimination game over Grace Christian, followed by a three-set sweep of Nikiski that forced an if-necessary, winner-take-all, 30-point set against the Bulldogs, which Mt. Edgecumbe won 30-22 to seal the program’s fourth state title in six years.
“Saturday featured some of the best play I’ve seen in my entire coaching career,” coach Michael Mahoney told me.
His team finished +66 in total points and won seven of eight sets overall at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
“The thing I’m really proud of is that the girls really bought into the program this year,” Mahoney said. “They trusted their coaches. They trusted their training. And it really showed in the end that they could pull together and really showcase their skills at the state tournament. They played like a family plays.”
Mt. Edgecumbe is a public boarding school in Sitka and has an enrollment of kids from all over Alaska. The girls come from different backgrounds but come together on the volleyball court for a common goal.
“We’re all super close. We’re like sisters, of all us,” Haylee Steffes told me. “I really wanted to win the state championship for the senior especially because it’s their last year. I know I put everything I had into it so they could have another state championship.”
For Persson, who is from Kalskag, the state tournament provided a rare opportunity for some family time with her parents, who traveled to Anchorage to watch their daughter in action.
“They really haven’t had a chance to watch me the last four years because I’ve been at boarding school,” she said. “It felt like I played a lot better because they were there. I wanted to impress them and show them what I’ve learned, especially it being my senior year.”
Persson and Steffes were part of a marvelous Mt. Edgecumbe front line that seemed to kill everything near the net.
Mahoney credited hitting coach Brian Jones for his efforts behind the scenes in working exclusively with the players.
“He broke them down and taught them all the way from the beginning,” Mahoney said. “They did a lot of training and their hitting really improved throughout the year.
“They really started smacking the ball when we got to the state tournament.”
Of course, if the passing and setting aren’t on point, then the hitting is off rhythm.
Enter setter Zhane White, who joined Persson and Steffes on the all-tournament team. She utilized her quickness to orchestrate the offense, spreading the ball around and executing the simple play rather than forcing the action.
“I played what the defense gave me,” she said. “I didn’t try anything super crazy.”
White saw firsthand how the Braves improved their offensive timing.
“At the beginning of the season it was pretty rough, but they worked really hard throughout the season,” White said. “Coach Mahoney had them do lots of reps, and that really helped when it mattered most.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.