FAIRBANKS - In what head coach Phil Shoemaker called THE rivalry for the people of Alaska, the Alaska Nanooks volleyball team beat the University of Alaska Anchorage Saturday night in four sets (25-21, 21-25, 25-21, 25-23).
“It was a great match,” Shoemaker said after the game. “It was everything you’d hope for in a rivalry match.”
Shoemaker said both teams were well supported by fans in the stands and the atmosphere was “crazy.”
The key to the Nanooks’ success was their net play, Shoemaker said.
“We knew we had to battle hard at the net better than we have been,” he said, “and it was a much, much better game at the net for us than what we’ve done, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
As a team, the Nanooks recorded 10 blocks on the Seawolves. Senior middle blocker Erica Gage accounted for four block assists and one solo block, and Marybeth Wikander had two block assists and two solo blocks.
“Our blocking was quite strong and much improved,” Shoemaker said. “Anchorage is an outstanding offensive team, and we outperformed them. A big part of that was our blockers’ ability to neutralize some of their strengths.”
The Nanooks’ defense did hold the Seawolves offensively. Outside hitter McKenzie Moss led the way for the Seawolves with 13 kills on 37 attacks (.216).
Alaska, now 2-1 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and 4-5 overall, had four more total kills than UAA, which fell to 1-2 GNAC, 6-5 overall.
Nineteen of the Nanooks’ 52 total kills came from outside hitter Tereza Bendlova, and outside hitter Simone Chavous added 11 of her own.
“I was just thinking that I needed to be focused on the game, but be confident at the same time,” Bendlova said. “I knew we had to take it one ball at a time, one play at a time. We couldn’t think about the victory or 25 points. It had to be one point at a time.”
Bendlova also had 14 digs, leading the Nanooks with defensive specialist Allison Oddy who also had 14 on the night.
The margin of digs between the Nanooks and Seawolves is one statistic that really set the game apart for Shoemaker.
“We had 61 digs to their 47,” he said. “It was our defense in the back court that was a huge difference maker.”
Alaska’s defensive substitutes Jordyn Montgomery, Jennifer Holland and Oddy — “our smurfs,” Shoemaker called the trio — accounted for nearly 60 percent of the team’s total digs.
“They did what we’ve been expecting them to do,” Shoemaker said.
Nanooks setter Mandy Grierson had 38 assists and Bendlova said credit needs to be given to the Nanooks’ sophomore setter.
“Mandy did a great job setting the ball,” the graduate student said. “We were able to bring it all together tonight with good defensive plays, digs and blocks and really good offensive plays, too. It was a big team effort.”
The jubilance was abundant after Alaska scored their final point on a joint hitting error by Anchorage’s Robyn Burton and a block by Bendlova and Wikander.
“There was a lot of jumping around and hugs,” Shoemaker said. “There were happy fans, players, coaches. There was relief and exhaustion.”
“I am feeling tired and so happy,” said Bendlova, who transferred from the University of Southern Alabama. “I’m so proud of my whole team. We played together and everybody had really good supportive moments. This might be the best win I’ve ever had. This is the best team I’ve ever been on, people wise, so it makes me enjoy winning even more.”
The Nanooks host Western Washington on Thursday in a conference match at 7 p.m. in the Patty Center.
Contact staff writer Renee Thony at 459-7583.