The Lathrop Malemutes volleyball team reenergized itself in Thursday night’s semifinal match of the Mid Alaska Conference Tournament in the Dan McHenry Gymnasium at North Pole High School.
Their renewed energy against the third-seeded West Valley Wolfpack also extended Lathrop’s season and its hopes of playing in the Class 4A state tournament next week.
The second-seeded Malemutes prevailed in five sets, 25-14, 21-25, 23-25, 25-22, 16-14, to advance to the championship match against the host and top-seeded North Pole Patriots at 6 p.m. today.
“We’re just one step closer to state,” said Lathrop junior Harmony La’apui, who registered the match-winning point.
La’apui said the Malemutes’ approach to the MAC final will be similar to the one for the tournament semifinal.
“Going into it humble, staying strong and coming out strong,” she said.
The MAC champion moves on to the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank Alaska Class 4A State Championships on Nov. 14-16 in the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Lathrop head coach Romaine Talo offered simple advice to her players after West Valley was close in the fifth set to ending Lathrop’s season and getting an opportunity to play for the 21st MAC tournament title in the Wolfpack’s history.
Lathrop also had nine players for the match while West Valley had 13.
“I just kept telling them, ‘Come on, this is where you have to bring it,’” Talo said not long after celebrating the victory with the Malemutes.
Late in the fifth set, the score was tied four times.
A kill by West Valley’s Pam Noll made it 10-10 and Lathrop hitting errors evened the score at 12 and 13.
La’apui pulled the Malemutes ahead 14-13 with a cross-court kill and West Valley’s Charlotte Curry made it 14-all with her cross-court delivery.
An off-speed kill by TT Tagovailoa put Lathrop back in front 15-14. On the next side-out, the Malemutes gained the berth in the MAC tournament championship with La’apui’s heads-up block on an overpass by the Wolfpack.
“The ball just came right over the net and I just blocked it,” La’apui said.
The Malemutes, according to La’apui, also were humble during the two-hour challenge.
“We don’t want to get too excited early in the game. We want to try to keep our cool,” La’apui said.
West Valley head coach Dave Cox said he was proud of a group of Wolfpack which was winless for a good portion of the regular season.
“I was very proud. That was my (post-match speech) to them,” Cox said. “They shouldn’t be crying right now. They should be happy and proud because we went from getting beat in three (sets) by 15 points every single time to a loss in five (sets in the MAC semifinal) by two points.
“They came a long way.”
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.