The Soldotna Stars couldn’t pull off the colossal upset Thursday at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament, but there’s reason to believe the Stars have some more fight left in them.
SoHi fell 3-0 to the four-time defending champion Dimond Lynx at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, losing with scores of 25-20, 25-17 and 25-16. The opening day loss dropped SoHi into the loser-out bracket with a Friday morning matchup with North Pole at 11:45 a.m.
Until they lose, the Stars could potentially play three games Friday, then one more Saturday to reach the final.
Soldotna head coach Luke Baumer said he felt good about the way SoHi stayed with Dimond during crucial stretches.
“I thought we hung with them well, we executed our game plan well, but they’re state champs,” Baumer said. “There’s a reason they’ve won so much, but I thought we turned some heads.”
Senior outside hitter Ituau Tuisaula became one thorn in the side of the Lynx, which feature a multifaceted attack. Tuisaula consistently hammered the Dimond defense with power shots and kills. Baumer said Tuisaula was able to set up well with strong setting from Holleigh Jaime and Sierra Kuntz but it wasn’t enough to tip the scales in SoHi’s favor.
“We knew we couldn’t tip in points, their defense is too strong,” he said.
Baumer attributed the highly specialized nature of the Lynx as a force to be reckoned with, as many of the Dimond players practice year-round in camps and offseason programs.
“They’re doing volleyball 90 percent of the time,” Baumer said. “A lot of our athletes do volleyball, basketball, track, whatever. If we had more opportunities to get more touches on the ball in the offseason, I think we could compete with them.”
Dimond got off to a 14-7 lead in Game 1 to immediately stamp its name on the game, but after a timeout SoHi began to cut into the gap and got as close as 18-14, then made it to 23-20 before the Lynx called timeout. Dimond then scored three straight points to take a 1-0 match lead.
Dimond started quick again in Game 2 but a furious front block helped SoHi to come back and tie it at 14 apiece.
However, the Stars couldn’t fully solve Dimond’s scrappy defense and the Lynx responded with a run to end the game and take a 2-0 match lead.
SoHi pressed Dimond through Game 3 and cut the lead to 16-14 before Dimond yet again pulled away late to clinch the match, using a kill point from junior Larssen Anderson to end it.
With North Pole standing in the way of advancing through the tournament and ending their season, Baumer said confident that SoHi is still in the running for a Saturday championship fight.