Tanalian spikers fight through tragedy at tournament
The 2016 Mixed Six state volleyball tournament was more of an afterthought for the Tanalian Lynx. The main focus for the Port Alsworth squad was getting through the three-day tournament in Anchorage and emerging stronger as a team and a community following the death of two students and the father of one of the team's seniors in a plane crash.
The Lynx did their part, turning in a solid showing despite the events taking place around them. Tanalian ended the tournament by winning five of its six single-set matches on Saturday in consolation pool play. As a team, they defeated Atmautlak and Aniak by identical 2-0 scores and tied Hoonah, 1-1.
The Lynx, who had entered the tournament as the Southwest Conference champion, were dealt a tough blow prior to the start of the tournament. State officials reported four people, including Scott Blom and two of his children, had not arrived via plane as scheduled. It was later determined that the Piper PA-28 Cherokee that was transporting the three to Anchorage so they could watch their older brother, Sam, play in the state tournament had went down in the Lake Clark area. Blom, 45, and two of his children, Kaitlyn,14, and Zach, 13, died in the accident, as did the pilot, Kyle Longerbeam, 25.
According to National Transportation Safety Board records, the small 4-seat aircraft left Port Alsworth around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, but failed to arrive in Anchorage. In the ensuing search, the plane's co-pilot seat and three of its four wheels were found floating on Lake Clark.
"So without a doubt, the airplane is unfortunately underwater," said Clint Johnson, the NTSB Alaska chief. What le?the plane to crash remains under investigation, Johnson said.
Prior to the start of the tournament, ASAA officials offered to the team the opportunity to not play.
The Lynx, however, elected to play in an effort to honor the three. Wearing the numbers of their fallen classmates on their faces in blue and silver facepaint - No. 11 for Zach, a seventh-grade student, and No. 5 for Kaitlyn, a freshman - the team took to the court on Thursday morning for the start of pool play. The Lynx went 0-2 in Pool A action, falling to Unalakleet and Gustavus. The team finished third in the pool and fell into Saturday's Consolation play.
After battling Hoonah to a 1-1 deadlock, Tanalian hit stride. The team - with Julie Blom and her oldest son, Josh, watching on from the stands - defeated Aniak and Atmautlak in its final two outings.
Noatak won the 2016 Mixed Six state tournament on Saturday with a win over Unalakleet.
Matthew Tua'au, Gustavus
Joel Onalik, Noatak
Vera Fefelov, Nikolaevsk
Arctic Ivanoff, Unalakleet
Jamal Alstorm, Alakanuk
Wallace Ungwiluk, Gambell
Korena Nelson, Kodiak ESSS
Alyssa Patrick, Gustavus
Nicole Stalker, Noatak
Jaylen Cannon, Tikigaq
Taylor Harvey, Unalakleet
Levi Mills, Noatak.
Defensive Specialist — Taylor Harvey, Unalakleet
Best Setter — Nicole Stalker, Noatak
Best Server — Matthew Tua'au, Gustavus
Best Hitter — Joel Onalik, Noatak