The Lady Braves after winning the 2011 3A state volleyball championship. (AP photo by Robert DeBerry.)

The Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves powered their way to the state 3A volleyball championship over the weekend.

Edgecumbe defeated Grace Christian in 3 straight games at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla on Saturday (11-15-11) to take the title, a mirror image of last year’s heart-breaking loss.

Rich Calkins coaches the Lady Braves. He says his team carried the memory of last year’s defeat with them as they edged toward a rematch of 2010.

“Two of the games could have gone either way last year. We got beat 26-24 and 25-23. So I think that experience in that really close match last year really paid off. I know going into it there were a lot of comments about how we didn’t want to lose to Grace Christian again.”

And like last year, the 2011 championship match could have gone either way: Two of the three games were within three points. Calkins says his girls showed extraordinary determination.

“It felt like we were in pretty good control of the match, but a couple of balls either way and it could have been a different story. We were real proud, because when the tough plays needed to be made, the girls stepped up and played aggressively, and made those plays.”

Brenna Johanson, a senior from Hoonah, says she recognized many of the girls on the other side of the court from last year’s championship. But a more critical moment may have come in the second round, when Mt. Edgecumbe lost its first game to Dillingham, managing to score only 12 points.

“We just weren’t focused, and we weren’t trying our best.”

Johanson would go on to rack up 19 kills in the remaining three games in the match. Dillingham never got close.

Johanson, who is a two-time all-state player, is one of only three seniors the Lady Braves are losing to graduation. The team will rebuild around players like freshman standout Taryn White, who was also named all-state. White agreed that the Lady Braves’ surprising first-round loss to Petersburg in last week’s regional tournament was a small setback.

“Yeah, but it made me push myself a lot harder.”

The Edgecumbe girls had to claw their way back through the loser’s bracket to win their fifth straight regional title before going to state.

White also says strong friendships off the court help the team during their record season.

Rich Calkins shares that opinion. The Lady Braves were runners-up in 2010, 2007, and 2005. He says the resolve that this group of girls demonstrated on their way to the state championship in Wasilla was remarkable.

“If I could figure out how to teach it I could write a book and make a million dollars or two. I think a lot of it’s in the chemistry of the team. Like Taryn said, these girls are all real close, and I think our strength this year is our team. When I look back at the state championship match I can point to specific times where each and every one of our girls contributed to the victory in a large way. And when the chips were down, or Grace Christian was starting to make a run, there was always someone to step up and make a great pass, or a nice set, or get a kill like these girls. I think it was just total teamwork.”

The other Lady Braves to make the all-state team were Mariah Martin and Katelyn Cook. It was Cook’s second year to receive the honor. The other graduating seniors are Aqualina Active and Donnita White. Calkins says the departure of these players will “leave a big hole to fill.”