The Monroe Catholic Rams, on Friday night, assured themselves of playing in the Class 3A state tournament for the sixth time in the last seven years.
First, however, the Rams will play for the Aurora Conference tournament’s championship before they play in the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank Alaska 3A State Championships on Nov. 14-16 in the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
The top-seeded Rams clinched the state-tournament berth after defeating the third-seeded Valdez Buccaneers 25-16, 19-25, 25-18, 25-23 in the Aurora tournament’s winner’s bracket final in the Eielson High School gymnasium on Eielson Air Force Base.
“It means everything. It’s my senior year and I get to extend to continue my season a little bit longer and play with my girls (teammates) still,” said Monroe Catholic senior middle hitter Chloe Maynard, who registered 31 kills and 11 blocks Friday.
Defense was a key for the Rams, who often made several digs to extend side-outs which seemed headed toward sure points for the Buccaneers, the defending tournament champions and 3A state runners-up.
“It’s the second part of our season, and a lot of it has to be heart and determination to win. That’s what we showed today,” Monroe Catholic head coach Dave Obermeyer said after the match.
The Rams compiled 72 digs, led by Madelaine Muramoto’s 18 and Casey Elterman’s 17. Tia Campanelli and Jenna Hernandez contributed 13 and 10, respectively.
The winner’s bracket final was anong five matches on the second day of the three-day tournament.
The Rams-Buccaneers matchup occurred after both teams won semifinals Friday. Monroe swept the fourth-seeded Eielson Ravens 25-20, 25-16, 25-20 and Valdez upset the second-seeded Hutchison Hawks 23-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-20.
Eielson later eliminated the sixth-seeded Galena Hawks with a 25-13, 25-19, 25-12 decision and Hutchison eliminated the fifth-seeded Delta Junction Huskies in four sets, 25-16, 15-25, 25-19, 25-15.
Monroe plays for the Aurora tournament title at 2 p.m. today. The Rams will trade spikes with the winner of the elimination-bracket final between Valdez and the winner of the elimination match between Eielson and Hutchison.
The elimination match is scheduled for 10 a.m., and the elimination-bracket final is slated for noon.
If Monroe loses in the championship match, an if-necessary contest will be played at 4 p.m. to determine this year’s Aurora tournament champion and the conference’s top seed for the state tournament. The Aurora tournament runner-up advances to the 3A state tournament as the conference’s No. 2 seed.
In Friday’s winner-bracket final, Valdez displayed scrappiness. However, Buccaneers head coach Adam Sharrai saw a few areas on which Valdez could improve for the Aurora tournament’s last day.
“We didn’t pass very well, we struggled with some passing. So that would be number one,” Sharrai said. “We had some moments where we didn’t stay as fast as we wanted.
“We have to be quick, have better passing in the back field (court) and be aggressive, go after it.”
In the fourth set, Monroe led 22-19 on one of Muramoto’s 10 kills in the match. Valdez rallied to a 23-22 lead, capped by Jackie Stewart’s second service ace in a row during the 4-0 run.
Two sides-out later, Chloe Maynard secured match point and the state-tournament berth with her 31st kill of the night, a deep delivery up the middle of the court.
“I was so nervous,” the senior said. “My setter (Campanelli, a junior) and I have been running that play for mostly the entire season. It was definitely honed and I’m glad we could put it away. It all started with our passing.”
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.