The East Anchorage volleyball team continued its remarkable turnaround season with a 23-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-19 victory over the Wolverines Thursday night at South High.
The T-birds, now 16-4 overall and 7-0 in Cook Inlet Conference, could have found themselves in a two-set hole after falling behind in the second set.
But instead, they rallied to even things up at a set apiece and went on to win two straight tense, back-and-forth sets to close things out in front of a lively crowd at the Wolverines Den.
It was the kind of gritty, never-give-up performance that has become the trademark of a T-birds squad which in one year has climbed from the depths of the conference standings to the top.
“These girls are resilient,” East coach Garrett Danner said.
South (5-8, 4-3) was in attack mode all night. Boasting a strong serving game and a formidable front line, the Wolverines kept East diving and digging to stay alive.
South senior outside hitter Allison Ward and sophomore middle hitter Ellie Birch peppered East with would-be kills all night.
But the defensive-minded East squad played like they were connected by a string. When one player laid out to dig out a spike another was quick to fill the empty space and keep the volley.
“East’s defensive play was excellent,” said South head coach Amy Mestas. “They have clearly been working hard on D and being great teammates.”
As she has done all season, senior setter Athaliah Faiilagi was at the center of the action, controlling tempo and providing hitters with opportunities.
Jirah Boma, who racked up 12 kills, was the primary beneficiary of those opportunities. The junior outside hitter punished the Wolverines with a combination of scorching kills and perfectly placed feathery taps.
The Wolverines were led by Ward’s 17 kills and received excellent playmaking from sophomore setter Ellie Kleven, who tallied 32 assists.
Boma, who put long hours into developing her game during the offseason, is flashing star talent this season.
But it’s been team-play, not star-play behind the T-birds remarkable one-season turnaround.
Credit Danner for fostering a culture at East during his two years there that relies on trust, sacrifice and hard work.
“The strength of this team is by far the family environment the team has created with one another,” said Danner, “Each and every one of the team members has an important role in our success.”
Last year, the players, families and administration got to know Danner and his style. This year he said the focus has been all about volleyball and improving.
“They have bought in,” he said. “They believe in their abilities and together we have become a winning program this year.”
The T-birds had not beaten South High since 2017. Topping a program that has won seven state championships in the past 18 years, in their own gym, is a nice measuring stick for a team on the rise.
“The win over South lets everyone know that East is a formidable team and will not be beat without a fight,” said Danner. “It felt exhilarating. I have an extreme sense of pride for the players and their families.”
CIC Volleyball Standings