The 2019 version of the North Pole Patriots volleyball team ended a three-decades drought in the program’s history.
The Patriots rallied for a four-set victory over the Lathrop Malemutes in Thursday night’s championship match of the Mid Alaska Conference Tournament in the Dan McHenry Gymnasium at North Pole High School. The 15-24, 25-16, 25-18, 25-13 outcome also advanced North Pole to the Class 4A state tournament for the first time since 1989.
“I told you at the beginning of the season that we had a good shot of being in the state tournament. With this group of girls, it’s been amazing,” said North Pole head coach Rick Swankie.
The 4A state tournament takes place Nov. 14-16 in the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“It means a lot because we’ve all grown up together (with) this team,” Ainsley Smith, a junior setter, said of the Patriots’ state-tournament berth.
A strong effort at the net was huge in North Pole capturing the MAC tournament title and reaching the state tournament.
“North Pole came, they wanted it and they came to win,” said Lathrop head coach Romaine Talo. “They just kept on swinging.
“How they came in the second set, my blockers weren’t ready for it, my hitters weren’t ready for it.”
Top-seeded North Pole, according to Swankie, employed a defense geared toward slowing TT Tagovailoa and Harmony La’apui, who had 23 and 15 kills, respectively, for second-seeded Lathrop in Wednesday’s semifinal win over the third-seeded West Valley Wolfpack in the Patriots’ gym.
“We were trying to shut down Harmony and TT by adjusting our front-row block and trying to clean up the short stuff and tip (hit) off that,” Swankie said.
North Pole’s attack often find open spaces on Lathrop’s side of the net Thursday.
“We knew what spots were open and we aimed at those spots because we knew they (Lathrop) had a really good defense,” said Smith, who contributed 32 assists in the MAC final.
Alivia Himebauch, with one of her team-high 12 kills, gave the Patriots a 24-11 lead in the fourth set. Three side-outs later, North Pole celebrated the MAC title after Lathrop committed a serving error.
Sarah Loveless produced a career-high nine kills and contributed a block for the host and fourth-seeded Eielson Ravens in a 25-20, 25-27, 25-23, 25-23 win over the fifth-seeded Delta Junction Huskies in a first-round match of the Aurora Conference Championships.
McKenna Hopper had five kills, three aces and two blocks for the Ravens, who play the top-seeded Monroe Catholic Rams in a semifinal at 10 a.m. today. The second-seeded Hutchison Hawks play at noon today against the third-seed Valdez Buccaneers, a 25-9, 25-8, 25-5 winner over the sixth-seeded Galena Hawks on Thursday.
The semifinal winners play in the winner’s bracket final at 6 p.m. today.
Elimination matches also are slated for 2 and 4 p.m. today. The tournament concludes Saturday with the second-place match at 2 p.m., and if needed, an if-necessary final, at 4 p.m.
The tournament’s first and second-place teams advance to the Class 3A state tournament at UAA on Nov. 14-16.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.