The season ended one day short of the Soldotna volleyball team’s hopes with a 3-0 loss Friday to the Bartlett Bears at the Class 4A state tournament.
SoHi fell with scores of 25-21, 25-16 and 25-17 at the cavernous Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. Earlier in the day, SoHi advanced with a 3-0 win over North Pole, winning with scores of 25-16, 25-16 and 25-21.
The weekend capped a largely successful 2019 campaign for SoHi, which went 12-4 overall outside of tournament play before locking up its fourth state berth in six years with an emotional win over Wasilla at the Northern Lights Conference tournament on home court.
Among the seniors that bid adieu Friday was libero Holleigh Jaime, who’s been a guiding force for the Stars this year. Jaime said she was proud of the team for competing for each other throughout the season.
“We worked very hard in practice, two hours every day,” Jaime said. “It was a great season, we’ve worked hard to be where we are now.”
SoHi head coach Luke Baumer didn’t harbor any regrets with the 1-2 showing over two days. Baumer said even though SoHi had losses against Dimond and Bartlett, the Stars were able to hit back this year against powerhouse contenders that feature school populations twice the size as SoHi.
“Out of all the years I’ve coached with SoHi, we’ve never been able to hang with Anchorage teams like this team has,” he said. “This year, we were going blow for blow with these big Anchorage schools, which normally we get blown out of the water with.”
After dropping the first set, SoHi stayed with Bartlett down the stretch. The Bears led 19-10 before SoHi ripped off a 6-1 run to force Bartlett to call timeout, which paid off as the Bears scored the final five points to take a 2-0 match lead.
Trying to poke holes against a Bartlett front line that included senior middle Sierra Fainuulelei, junior middle Judith Utuga and senior Natasha Honey Togaga’e, the Stars fell into a 10-4 hole in the third set. SoHi pulled itself back to 19-15 in the late minutes, but a kill point by Utuga ended the match.
In his first year manning the helm of the Stars following the departure of longtime peninsula coach Sheila Kupferschmid, Baumer said he felt good about 2019 and the direction the team is headed.
“Coaching should not be me controlling the team from the sidelines,” Baumer said. “Coaching should be teaching the game and allowing your girls to adjust on the floor with what they see. Nobody’s going to be able to see what’s on the floor besides the players.”
The team is graduating six seniors, including a talented core of Jaime at libero, Ituau Tuisaula at outside hitter, opposite hitter Bailey Armstrong and middle blocker Serena Foglia, as well as a few girls that showed improvement like blocker Trayce Lyon. Tuisaula ended up earning Northern Lights Conference MVP.
The SoHi junior class returns some promise for 2020 as well, as a few names displayed big improvements this year such as setter Sierra Kuntz, who played a pivotal role this weekend, outside hitter Morgan Bouschor and setter Hosanna Van Hout.
Jaime said her message to the players who return next fall is to maintain the chemistry, something the 2019 group was able to form as the season neared its end. Jaime said that it helped that coach Baumer emphasized family throughout.
“We really came together, especially during regions,” she said. “We really made this a family. We worked together and just came together.”
Earlier against North Pole, the Stars held command for large stretches of the game and were able to make quick work of the Patriots. In the third and final set, SoHi broke a late tie at 20-all, and Bailey Armstrong ended it with a kill shot, sending the Stars to the later game with Bartlett.