Grace Christian crashed the party on the Nikiski volleyball senior night, winning a 3-1 match with scores of 25-20, 21-25, 25-18 and 25-11 on Friday night in Nikiski.
Nikiski began the night with the usual yearly celebration of the team’s seniors, a class comprised of Laura Hufford and Rachel Thompson.
Once the formalities finished, the defending Class 3A state champions were surprised by a competitive Nikiski bunch that managed to tie the match up at a game apiece.
“Nikiski’s serve-receive is the best we’ve seen this season,” said Grace coach Valerie Steele, whose squad moved to 10-1 in the conference with the win. “Normally we get a ton of points on our serving, but they’re really good.”
The Bulldogs can chalk up a lot of the gritty receiving game to Hufford, a libero who pieced together a number of wild saves on the Grace attack. Hufford ended the night with 24 digs.
“She played phenomenal tonight,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura. “She was all over the place. Usually when you overpass a team, they shove it right back down your throat, and they weren’t able to do that many times. Laura was all over it.”
Hufford, along with the rest of the Nikiski defensive line, kept Grace’s leading hitter, senior Kinley Hickok, in check for most of the night.
“They played really well,” Segura said about her squad. “I don’t think tonight was a complete loss.”
Hickock led Grace with 18 kills and four blocks, and had a hitting percentage of .333, according to Steele, but the sophomore duo of Kaitlin Cowell and Annie Vanderweide came through as a support team.
“They’ve been doing that all season,” Steele said. “Kaitlin, as a setter, takes a lot of responsibility and plays like she’s older.”
Cowell racked up 32 assists and 17 digs, while Vanderweide had 19 digs, 11 kills and six aces. Bridget Broderick also produced 32 digs and two aces.
Thompson provided 21 assists for Nikiski, as well as 15 digs, six aces and five kills. Zykiah Cooney recorded 12 digs, Brianna Vollertson had six kills, Ayla Pitt had six kills and three blocks, Lauren O’Brien notched five kills and Melanie Sexton had three blocks.
After taking the first set with the help of an 8-2 start, Grace looked to be on pace to notch a sweep.
Nikiski had other plans, however. With Grace leading 16-11 midway through the second set, Nikiski began a rally that included eight straight points at one point.
Aided by several crucial tip shots from Vollertson and O’Brien, the Bulldogs hit on an 11-1 point streak that left them with a 22-17 lead.
“We just really cleaned up our mistakes,” Segura said. “We didn’t look like the young team that we usually show up to be.”
Segura said in the periods when coach Steele took Hickok out of the game, Nikiski took advantage of the lack of height at the net to put the ball down on Grace’s court.
“But our goal was to work as hard as we could when she was in, and rack up the points when she was out,” Segura said. “That’s what we did in the second game.”
It was Hickok herself that gave Nikiski the 25-21 win in the second set, sending the ball wide with Nikiski at match point that tied the match up at one win apiece.
Hickock came out firing in the third set, knocking down several strong kills to put Grace up midway through the game with an 8-2 run.
After retaking the match lead, Grace dominated the fourth and final set, streaking out to a 14-6 lead and finishing on a 10-2 run.
Nikiski 3, Houston 0
The host Bulldogs finished up the regular season at 6-6 in the Southcentral Conference and 9-9 overall with a 25-7, 25-13 and 25-11 victory over Houston on Saturday.
“We had a really decent weekend right before regions,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said. “We’re ready to go.”
The coach said she was particularly proud of the final home weekend for seniors Rachel Thompson and Laura Hufford.
Thompson had six aces and 26 assists Saturday, while Hufford had 12 digs.
Also for the Bulldogs, Zykiah Cooney had four aces and six digs, Ayla Pitt had eight kills and four blocks, Brittany Perry had 10 kills and two blocks, Lauren O’Brien had three kills and Brianna Vollertson had two blocks.
Grace Christian 3, Seward 0
The Grizzlies have a habit of ruining other volleyball teams’ senior nights.
The visiting Grizzlies notched a Southcentral Conference victory on Seward’s senior night on Saturday.
Seward finished up the regular season at 4-8 in the conference. Grace ended the year 11-1.
Senior captains Maria Jackson and Paige Carter-Kurtz were honored, as well as seniors Misha Johnson-Gray, Kiana Clemens, Carrie Anderson and Masha Hart.
“We had a lot of crowd support, which was fantastic,” Seward coach Jaime Fredrickson said.
Carter-Kurtz had four aces for the Seahawks, while Fredrickson said Jackson also served well. She also said Clemens led the way on both hits and tips.
“One thing I expected from this match, we weren’t going to win unless we were tenacious and went for it,” Fredrickson said. “We came up a little short. We didn’t take advantage when sometimes we could have attacked and taken points.”
Homer 3, Houston 0
The Mariners rebounded Friday night with a clean sweep over Southcentral opponent Houston, winning with scores of 25-7, 25-12 and 25-9, one night after suffering a sweep to Grace Christian.
The Mariners ended the regular season 7-5 in the conference, and 8-6 overall.
Homer coach Beth Trowbridge wrote in an email that the team was “back on track with aggressive attacking and serving.”
Larsen Fellows led Homer with 13 kills and five service aces. Teammate Jane Rohr added nine kills and three service aces, Malina Fellows had five kills, Kyle Pitzman notched five kills, McKi Needham recorded five service aces, and Maggie Larue provided 10 digs.