AK: $15,000 and 2,000 miles later, Kotzebue High volleyball players show Sitka their skills

This is the team’s first trip to Southeast in over a decade. They played five matches in less than 48 hours. (Photo by Sarah Gibson, KCAW – Sitka)

Alaska’s high school sports teams spend a lot of time and money on travel. But $15,000 and 2,000 miles for just one one trip? That’s unusual. Last week, the Kotzebue Girls Volleyball team traveled to Sitka to play Mount Edgecumbe and Sitka High School.

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Mount Edgecumbe’s gym was pretty full for a Saturday morning. The school’s Lady Braves are the state’s defending volleyball champions and they’re hosting the Kotzebue Huskies. The game starts with the Braves chanting “Edgecumbe! Edgecumbe!”

And then from the Huskies…

The Huskies warmed up for their game against the Mount Edgecumbe Lady Braves, Alaska’s defending volleyball state champions. (Photo by Sarah Gibson, KCAW – Sitka)

“We say who let the dogs out hoo,” Cassidy Kramer said.

“Because we’re the huskies – so who let the dogs out because we’re not at home,” Calia Sieh said.

The Huskies are about as far from home as they can get and still be in Alaska – more than 1,000 miles. This is nearly every girls’ first trip to the Southeast. It takes a day to get here.

“We left Kotzebue at 8 a.m. and we got here at almost 11 (p.m.),” Calia said.

But the Huskies came to Sitka prepared: Xtra Tuffs and raincoats — because of the style.

These girls say high school sports are the way that a young person from Kotzebue gets to see new places.

“Flights are just a lot of money and you can’t drive anywhere so you have to fly, so sports is how you get out of town in high school,” Cassidy said.

Christina Fields is the volleyball coach. She said sports are one of the few free organized activities that keep kids busy and out of trouble.

“If you’re not into like outdoorsy things like camping or hunting or anything there’s basically nothing to do in Kotzebue,” Fields said.

So, the school invests in sports. School districts generally share the cost of flying teams back and forth. And this trip to Sitka was especially expensive. Sitka High School donated $3,000 and Mt. Edgecumbe is providing room and board. With roundtrip flights at $900 a head, the Kotzebue School District still spent $15,000.

And Husky fans? They had to pay their own way here – and some did.

“Let’s get the ball back,” the fans screamed. “Here we go Huskies!”

Three of the Huskies “Mom Squad” also made the trip. From L to R: Cathy McConnell, Annie Howarth, and Corina Kramer. (Photo by Sarah Gibson, KCAW – Sitka)

Three Kotzebue moms are in the stands, wearing t-shirts with “Mom squad” printed on the back. Corina Kramer said this game is a big deal in Kotzebue. Fans are following her Facebook updates and watching the live-stream.

‘If those girls have family they’re online and they’re cheering as much as we are, hollering at their TV sets or their computer screens at home,” Corina said.

Some of the moms played on this volleyball team together in the 80’s. Annie Howarth said back then, they traveled to villages within 100 miles of Kotzebue.

Now, because of how regional rankings work, Kotzebue teams fly farther and play bigger teams. This has a price tag but new benefits. Athletes accrue thousands of miles on airlines. And when they stop in Anchorage, they can fill bags with food and school supplies that are 2-3 times as expensive in Kotzebue. And then – there’s seeing a different part of Alaska. Ally Martin is on her first big trip –

“I didn’t expect a lot of trees or mountains,” Ally said.

“It’s way different,” Cassidy said. “In Kotzebue you can see for miles and miles and miles. Like you’ll stand on a hill and can see caribous that are miles away.”

Cassidy’s impression of Sitka?

“It’s so pretty! I love it. We saw a whale today,” Cassidy said. “It was so cool and we saw its water spew up.”

This trip is also special for the coach Christina Fields. She became head coach last month.

“When I decided to coach I was pretty excited to come here,” Fields said.

That’s because Fields knows Sitka. Seven years ago, she was a star athlete at Mt. Edgecumbe. Now her little sister is a student here. Fields said the Edgecumbe coaches made a big difference in her life.

“I wanted to be a coach like them, like they were for me,” Fields said.

The Lady Huskies volleyball team traveled over a thousand miles from Kotzebue to Sitka to play Sitka High School and Mount Edgecumbe. (Photo Courtesy of Cathy McConnell)

Meaning they pushed her and gave her confidence.

To make this trip worth it, the Huskies played four matches and one scrimmage in less than 48 hours. By the end, Fields said they’re feeling very tired.

“I thought it was like 11 P.M. after our game and I feel like I’m trying to stay up all night right now,” Fields said.

These trips are fun but exhausting, and when the team’s energy is low, that’s the hardest time to coach.

“I still have yet to find out what would help them but I’m going to be googling a lot of mental drills I can do with the team,” Fields said.

The Huskies lost both games to Mount Edgecumbe and won both against Sitka High School. The next time they might play these teams is in November, at the state championships in Anchorage.