Trailing by a set early in Friday night’s action, Soldotna volleyball coach Sheila Kupferschmid didn’t panic.
She knew exactly who she was dealing with.
The Stars rallied back to beat visiting Anchorage Christian Schools 3-1 with game scores of 26-28, 25-17, 25-15 and 25-18.
Kupferschmid, former coach of Skyview High, has faced ACS many times at the Class 3A level, so the early strength of the Lions wasn’t a surprise.
“ACS has a good program, very competitive,” Kupferschmid said. “We battled them all last year in the state tournament.”
Hayley Ramsell, a SoHi senior that spent the previous three seasons under Kupferschmid’s tutelage at Skyview, led the Stars with eight kills, getting several big shots early in each set to establish a lead.
Senior libero Alex Ashe provided solid defense with 34 digs, senior Bailey Rosin had 27 digs and two kills and senior Skylar Shaw netted 22 digs and five kills.
“We’re being aggressive with our serving, and part of it is because we’re not a bigger team,” Kupferschmid said. “I’m hoping to even things out on the backline.”
Alexis Quick led the ACS offense with six kills and two blocks. Teammate Paige McCaffrey had 15 digs, Tanner Ealum notched nine digs and Raven Thibodeaux had a pair of blocks.
SoHi snatched a 17-12 lead in the first set, but a swift serving game from ACS’s Tanner Ealum quickly closed the gap to one point.
The rest of the set went back and forth before ACS got to match point at 24-23. However, SoHi avoided a loss with a spectacular rally that saw the ball nearly drop at least four times before ending in a sideout by ACS, handing match point to the Stars.
Unfortunately for SoHi, a serving error, an unforced drop and a net violation gave the set to ACS 28-26.
“We weren’t consistent in the first set, we missed seven and lost,” Kupferschmid said.
Eager to tie the match up, Ramsell delivered early firepower in the second set to give SoHi an early 4-0 lead. Later, four unanswered points left the Stars leading 14-9.
Ashleigh Reynolds produced an exciting moment for the Lions on the next point, as a fast shot from SoHi hit an ACS player, bounced wide, but Reynolds caught the ball at the last second and sent it back over the net for the unlikely point.
Later in the set, Thibodeaux served up an ace that left ACS trailing 19-17, but the Stars finished strong with six straight points to win 25-17, getting kills from Ramsell and Lindsey Wong that tied the match up at a game apiece.
In the all-important third set, Soldotna began with a lucky strike that glanced off the fingertips of an ACS player, giving the Stars the opening point. From there, Ramsell once again got things going with several kills and tipped shots that ACS failed to return. Ashe provided a strong service game to help SoHi finish with six straight points to win 25-15.
“The third set is crucial because it’s the set that can make or break,” Kupferschmid said. “Hayley’s our leader, she’s a good swinger, and they couldn’t pick her up.”
In the fourth and final set, the Stars strung together five points in a row midway through to stake out a 16-9 lead, then relied on solid defense to close the night out with a 25-18 win.
“I keep saying, if my setters and my middles continue to grow, it grows our team,” Kupferschmid said.
Kupferschmid added that she thought senior Haley Miller and junior McKenna Rosin had big games as middle hitters.
With the region tournament only three weeks away, Kupferschmid mentioned that now is the time for the team to be sharpening up and preparing for its top physical and mental shape.
“Things can snowball positively,” she said. “They just get rolling, feeling confident and more control. It’s something I am stressing and striving for right now.”