Unalakleet wins Mixed 6 Tournament
The Western Conference Mixed 6 Tournament, held in St. Michael last week, featured a field that most expected to be as competitive as it had ever been.
Thirteen teams from across the Bering Strait School District gathered, each hoping to punch their ticket to Anchorage for the state championship.
In the end, it was the Unalakleet Wolfpack that won.
Mixed 6 Volleyball has a long legacy in the Bering Strait School District. It was actually “invented” in the BSSD district. In the 1980’s many of the small schools could not field full boys or girls basketball teams. Instead of playing coed basketball, Mixed 6 volleyball began. It was played in this district first until a few other schools picked it up and the state athletic association, the Alaska School Activities Association, decided to have a state tournament starting in the 1990’s. It has now turned into a huge sport statewide and the level of play has increased greatly.
2017 Western Conference championships
Stormy weather forced some schedule adjustments but the tournament got underway on time with first round matches on Thursday, Nov. 16. It was immediately evident that everyone was going to be treated to a great competitive tournament. Elim started with an upset over defending champion Gambell and Koyuk followed with a hard fought win over Brevig Mission.
Friday was a full day of volleyball, starting at 8:30 a.m. and running until midnight, and the play only improved with the higher seeds getting into action. All four of the top seeds made statements that they were in the proper place. Josh Prentice, White Mountain’s primary attacker, rained spikes down from every spot on the court while dominating Koyuk. Dominant perennial contenders Unalakleet and Golovin both dispatched their opponents as well and the rising team from Shishmaref showed they belonged in the conversation.
The semi-finals were classic matches even if the match totals don’t indicate that. The Unalakleet Wolfpack and Golovin Lynx faced off as they have for a decade and battled every point. Unalakleet won 3-0 but it could’ve gone either way. Shishmaref was able to withstand the barrage of hard hits from Prentice and used a complete team effort to advance to the championship match versus Unalakleet on Saturday.
The tournament is a hybrid “true-second/double elimination” format, so teams have that second chance to gain qualification to the State Tournament, although the champion would be determined earlier on Saturday.
White Mountain and Golovin stood by and watched the other teams on the loser’s side as they fought tooth and nail to make the advancement. Overall talent prevailed though and the neighbor schools won to face each other to determine who’d advance to play the loser of the championship match. Historically, the Golovin Lynx had the upper hand on the Wolves but White Mountain was the top seed this year and undefeated coming into the tournament.
The championship match between the Shishmaref Northern Lights and the Wolfpack was a great battle between complete teams who had solid play from all six positions. Powerful hitting, great defense and good service games drove these two teams and they were displayed. Powerful hitting from All-Tournament Player Arctic Ivanoff led the Wolfpack and Unalakleet prevailed 3-1 to regain the conference championship after a two-year hiatus, but Shishmaref knew that there journey wasn’t over.
The Golovin vs. White Mountain match was memorable. White Mountain came out swinging. Tournament “Top Setter” Felicia Ione and “Top Attacker” Josh Prentice had great chemistry and led the Wolves to wins in the first two sets but the Lynx led by senior star Oswald Moses refused to go away and pulled out two exciting sets, 26-24 and 25-23, to extend the match. White Mountain regained their poise to pull out the final set and advance.
The Wolves had to recharge immediately and get ready to play the Northern Lights for the second time for a trip to state. Shishmaref started strong and dominated the more fatigued Wolves but White Mountain caught their breath and came back to even the match. The teams repeated this in sets 3 and 4 and forced a set 5. With booming hits, outstanding defensive plays and a delirious crowd cheering every point, the score went back and forth until disaster struck for the Wolves. Prentice, who’d given his all for the past three hours, experience severe leg cramps. He wouldn’t quit but was physically unable to continue his incredible play and Shishmaref smartly exploited this and prevailed.
The Northern Lights would be returning to the State Tournament after 14 years.
The 2017 Mixed-6 volleyball state championships will be held on Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Dimond High School in Anchorage.