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Unalakleet, Golovin slug it out at Mixed-6 volleyball conference tourney

By Keith Conger - Published in the Nome Nugget newspaper 12/11/14

In the early 1970's boxing titans Muhammad Ali and George Frazier

took part in a series of bouts that thrilled the world. Each contest
was a hard fought, back and forth battle with the boxers trading
victories.

A modern day version of the classic Ali versus Frasier
matches played out on the volleyball courts at the 2014 Western
Conference Mixed-6 Volleyball Tournament this past weekend.
According to longtime Bering Strait School District athletics
director Jeff Erickson, the coed volleyball teams from Golovin and
Unalakleet have taken first and second place in the conference
tournament 10 of the last 11 years.

The Golovin Lynx were the number one seed entering the 2014
event, sporting a 10-1 BSSD record. Their only loss occurred in a
five set match against Unalakleet on November 8. Fittingly, the
Unalakleet Wolfpack concluded its regular season in second place with
a 9-1 record, with their only defeat coming at the hands the Lynx in
another thrilling five set match on November 22.

The yearly tradition continued with a rubber match between the
two powerhouses in the championship finals at the Shaktoolik High
School gym Saturday night. Although the Lynx were not able to take
the lead early in the first set, they were able to keep Unalakleet
from building more than a two point margin. Down 12 – 14, junior
Peter Olson ignited a Lynx run with two kill shots and a perfectly
placed tip. Junior Molly Moses added a service ace, and suddenly
Golovin had their first lead at 17-16.

Unalakleet would respond as junior Talon Erickson delivered an
ace of his own, and the Wolfpack reestablished a lead they would not
relinquish. Erickson also provided the final blow with a block at
set point giving his team a 25-21 win.

Senior Gage Ivanoff kept the momentum up early in the second set
for Unalakleet with a block and then a kill shot as the Wolfpack
jumped out to a 4-1 lead. Subsequently, two kills shots, and a pair
of service aces by Olson helped the Lynx capture their first lead of
the set at 8-7.

At that point Moses stepped to the service line trying to keep
her team's momentum. Five of her nine serves were aces, and suddenly
the Lynx had built a 10 point lead. A kill, an ace, and a block by
junior Hank Henry were all Golovin needed to finish the set with
25-14 win.

The Wolfpack continued with the “get an early lead” game plan
in set three, as a kill by Ivanoff, and an ace by sophomore Kirstian
Haugen helped Unalakleet jump ahead 7-1. When Moses came to the line
with her team down 9-5, she once more decided to let her serving help
get her team back in the game. Unalakleet again had trouble
establishing an offense off her powerful serves. The Lynx used a
well placed tip by freshman Oswald Moses, and two kills by Henry to
take a 10-9 lead.

The third set score stayed close until late in the game. With
the teams tied at 17, Erickson sent two precisely placed tips, and
chipped in a timely block to help the Wolfpack take a 20-17 lead.
Unalakleet abandoned their power game for the remainder of the set,
which proved an effective strategy. A well tipped ball by Wesley Ivanoff at set
point finalized a 25-19 triumph in set three.

Just like the aforementioned pugilists, Golovin and Unalakleet
traded blows in set four. Other than a solid kill shot by Olson, and
two firm hits from Gage Ivanoff, both teams settled for long volleys
and waited for the other to make mistakes. With the score tied
21-21, Ivanoff seized the moment by giving three thunderous spikes.
The Lynx worked hard to counter those attacks, including some fine
back row hitting by senior Alice Amaktoolik, but the Wolfpack drove
the score to 25-22. The three sets to one match victory gives
Unalakleet a number one seed at the upcoming state tournament.

After the match, Gage Ivanoff, the Wolfpack's modest leader,
credited the victory to the team's deep bench. He knows there will
be tough competition at the tournament next weekend, “but if we
play our game,” said Ivanoff, “I think we can take it.”

Unalakleet has won the state tournament each of the past two
years. Coach Nick Hanson, a former Wolfpack player, guided the squad
to a title in his first year as head coach in 2013. He was the
assistant coach for the team's victory in 2012. Unalakleet will be
pushing its current streak of tournament appearances to 11. No team
in the history of Mixed-6 play has made as many consecutive trips
south.

Golovin will be making its record extending 12th overall state
appearance. The Alaska School Activities Association established a
co-ed, or Mixed-6, volleyball contest in 1997. Appropriately, the
Lynx won that first gathering. They added state titles in 1999, and 2004,
and have been runners up three times, including last year when they
lost to the Wolfpack.

Mixed-6 volleyball and Golovin have become synonymous. The game
is part of the school's and the community's culture. Long time
coach, and former Lynx player, Frank Amaktoolik said, “we're lucky
because our younger kids see volleyball all the time, so they know
what to do. The kids play every other night at open gym, and a lot of
alumni play them.” Golovin's success defies logic to some degree.
They have a high school student population of about 13 kids. Nearly
every one plays and travels with the team.

The Shishmaref Northern Lights demonstrated that the powerhouses
better not become too complacent, as they took part in a spirited
match for third and fourth place. During the tournament Shishmaref
had its power supplied by senior Cory Ningeulook, who received fine
passes from setter Denise Fernandez. They worked hard to secure a
spot in the consolation match by beating the tournament host
Shaktoolik Wolverines, the Koyuk Malamutes, the Saint Michaels Storm,
and the White Mountain Wolves. The Northern Lights were beaten in a
first round match by Golovin.

Shishmaref's opponent in the last match of the tournament was the
Teller Aklaqs, who had advanced by beating the Storm, and the Gambell
Qughsatkut. They too lost an earlier match to Golovin. The set and
spike game of seniors Kaitlin Topkok and Cameron Okbaok, along with
the hustle of junior Ryan Topkok, proved too much for Shishmaref, as
Teller defeated the Northern Lights three sets to one. The win gave
Teller a third place finish, and dropped the Northern Lights to
fourth.

Top female and male spiker awards, as voted by the coaches, went
to Helen Bruns of Brevig Mission, and Okbaok. The tournament's top
servers were Wesley Ivanoff, and Golovin's Keisha Olanna. Fernandez
received the top setter award, and Okbaok was voted top defender.

The All Tournament Team included White Mountain's Anna Prentice,
Saint Michael's Deidre Levi, Amaktoolik, Bruns, Shishmaref's Hillary
Sinnok, Gage Ivanoff, Topkok, Olson, White Mountain's Joshua
Prentice, and Ningeulook.

Gambell earned the Academic Award with a grade point average of
3.89. The Team Sportsmanship Trophy went to Saint Michaels.

Mixed-6 volleyball is played with no more than three boys on the
court at any time. The serving order alternates between the two
genders. At least one girl must make contact with the ball each time
a team uses more than one hit to advance the ball across the net.
The net is set at the men's volleyball height of 7 feet 11 5/8
inches. The women's volleyball height is 7 feet 4 1/8 inches.
Schools must have populations of between five and 60 students.

The Western Conference is the only conference in Alaska that
qualifies two members for the state tournament. The opening rounds
of the state meet have a pre-determined pool play format.
Unalakleet, as the conference's number one seed, will play the top
seeds from the Northwest and Southeast Conference's. Golovin, as the
Western Conference's number two seed, will play the top seeds from
the Yukon River and North Slope Conferences.

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