Less than 10 minutes’ into their postseason lives, the UAA Seawolves suddenly found themselves without their senior ace Katelynn Zanders. The No. 1 seed UAA would prevail anyways, but not before two hours of back-and-forth drama thanks to a gutsy effort by the No. 8 seed Dixie State, 25-18, 15-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-12.
With her team out to an early lead, Zanders landed awkwardly on her left foot after going up for a block on Red Storm Kailey Frei. After a short time hunched over on her knees in pain, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year was carried off the court by the training staff. Freshman outside hitter Chrisalyn Johnson promptly checked in for the senior. Johnson has not been in the regular rotation for the Seawolves, but played a big huge role in Zanders’ absence.
“You started seeing [Johnson] do some nice things towards the end of the match,” head coach Chris Green said. “Just getting a little more confidence.”
Both Johnson and middle blocker Caitlin Hanson set career-highs in kills, delivering 8 and 14 respectively on a night when every point mattered. UAA middle blocker Erin Braun also had a strong outing — posting 14 kills. UAA setter and first-team All-GNAC Morgan Hooe quietly assisted on 44 points.
Dixie State was led by freshman Taylor Duryea whose 15 kills and 6 blocks nearly amounted to a shocking upset of the Seawolves.
“I’m not ready to be done at all with this team,” Duryea said. “Obviously, losing sucks but the saddest part for me is losing anyone on the team.”
Dixie State seniors Alex Anderson and middle blocker Makenzi Bird-Murphey played in their final games as Red Storm. The 2015 Pac West champions from St. George Utah brought their own fan base to Alaska — themselves. At timeouts, the visitors could be seen dancing to music, yelling, and just having an all-around happy time.
“We knew there would be a big crowd. We knew there would be lots of big shiny lights,” Dixie State coach Robyn Felder said.
It almost worked too. The Seawolves looked to close out the match in the fourth set leading 2-1, but Red Storm Delayne Daniel had other plans. The junior outside hitter had 5 kills in the see-saw fourth set, including one that prevented UAA from tying the game at 21-all.
The fifth set appeared to be going in Dixie’s favor. Down 3-7, UAA was forced to take a timeout, only 8 points away from saying goodbye to a 26-2 season. The pause in action took the wind out of the Red Storm’s sails, and soon the Seawolves were right back in the game. UAA reclaimed the lead after Hansen and Julia Mackey roofed Daniels attack. Despite committing two more service errors later on, the Seawolves found a way to win and live another day. Freshmen Leah Swiss and Johnson combined for 5 kills in the final go-around.