Brooke Ashley and Erin Koziczkowski team up for a block on Soldotna’s Sierra Kuntz Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Brooke Ashley and Erin Koziczkowski team up for a block on Soldotna’s Sierra Kuntz Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai holds off SoHi in 5 sets for thrilling senior night win; Wasilla tops Nikiski

Spooky things happen on Halloween night. Just ask the Soldotna volleyball team.

The Class 4A Stars endured a house of horrors Thursday night at Kenai Central High School as the Kardinals walked off with a thrilling 3-2 nonconference victory on senior night. Kenai took the first two games but watched as SoHi fought back to force a winner-take-all Game 5, and the Kards ultimately prevailed with scores of 25-20, 25-15, 23-25, 18-25 and 15-12.

Competing in its second season as a 3A school, Kenai has developed an experienced class of juniors and seniors that have molded the Kardinals into a competitive program after several seasons of struggle.

While Thursday’s game wasn’t a conference contest, there were still bragging rights for the players on the floor.

“For me, since freshman year, we’ve always just kind of lost to them,” said senior outside hitter Savannah Wilson. “But it means so much to me that we could win on a special day like this, on senior night. It’s the last home game, and I’m really glad it ended like this.”

Wilson had nine kills while junior Bethany Morris led the offense with 15 kills for Kenai. The combination of Wilson, Morris and junior Abby Every gave the SoHi defense fits as both squads entertained the crowd with long rally points.

“We knew our potential and what we could do,” Every said. “We stuck with it and we had some wise words from our coach. … Going into a region tournament after doing this, just gives us so much confidence.”

The win boosted Kenai’s overall record to 10-3 overall this year, while SoHi dropped to 12-3 overall.

SoHi beat Kenai 3-1 at home on Oct. 18, but Thursday was a different story.

“You have to take your hat off to Kenai, they played an amazing game today,” said SoHi head coach Luke Baumer. “We haven’t seen Kenai like that all season long. Ever.”

Kenai head coach Tracie Beck pointed to the Dimond-Service tournament last weekend as a big test for Kenai’s patience on the court, saying that she wanted to see Kenai work on a more consistent style of play that rewards experience.

Kenai ended up winning the bronze championship bracket at the Dimond-Service tourney.

“They stayed calm, cool and collected, even-keeled through that tournament,” Beck said. “That’s what they did, they weren’t up and down, they were very consistent. We didn’t have good and bad games, it was just level. That’s been our goal from there on out.”

Since then, Kenai went on the road Tuesday night and swept Homer in three games to nab a crucial Southcentral Conference win.

“That was a big confidence boost and it just helped collect everything together and play as one,” Wilson said.

Baumer said the Stars struggled to find a balance against Kenai particularly after losing senior opposite hitter Kylie Ness for the season. Ness has been out of the lineup since Oct. 19 to injury, and Baumer said another issue has kept her off the roster.

With Ness missing, the Kardinals had one less playmaker to worry about. Beck said a major key to slowing Soldotna’s offense was limiting senior libero Holleigh Jaime.

“We want to keep (the ball) away from her,” Beck said. “Especially when we’re serving.”

The Kards stayed with the Stars through the first set and were able to pull it out on an outside hit point by Wilson.

Three straight serve points by Kaylee Lauritsen fueled Kenai to a fast start in the second set, and Kenai led by as much as 13-6 before SoHi began to claw back the lead.

Jaime began to heat up with a series of service points and aces, but a timeout called by Kenai was just enough to maintain the lead, and the Kards finished it off with four straight points to take a 2-0 match lead.

In Game 3, SoHi senior Bailey Armstrong helped blow the game open with three straight points on a kill and two aces for a 10-1 SoHi run that gave the Stars a 17-11 lead.

Kenai used a 9-3 run to come back and tie the game at 21 on a kill point by Wilson. After that, both teams were knotted at 23, but Ituau Tuisaula finished it off with two big hits to stay alive and cut the match to 2-1.

The tandem of Tuisaula and Armstrong continued to power the Stars in game four, grabbing an early lead that lasted through the entire set, forcing a winner-take-all set.

In Game 5, Kenai grabbed the early momentum with a 4-1 lead, then pushed it to 10-4 thanks to a few huge tips and kills by Morris. SoHi returned the favor with Armstrong and Tuisaula combining for three straight points, and SoHi got as close as 12-11 before two balls into the net gave Kenai match point.

Every ended it with a kill shot that just made it inside the line to clinch the victory for the Kards, who rushed the court in a dogpile to celebrate.

“We had a roller coaster,” Wilson said. “We just pushed through and did it for each other, and for our seniors.”

Wasilla 3, Nikiski 2

The visiting Bulldogs fell 25-15, 21-25, 27-29, 25-17 and 15-5 to the Warriors in nonconference play. Nikiski is now 0-4 in nonconference play.

Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said the Warriors, who are a level up from the Bulldogs in school size, did not use some big players. Segura still said the match was great experience as the season comes to a close.

America Jeffreys had 21 digs for Nikiski, while Jaycee Tauriainen had 23 and Kaitlyn Johnson had 16.

Johnson had 26 assists, while Kaycee Bostic had 16 kills and Lillian Carstens had eight kills. Carstens had five blocks, while Bostic had four. Johnson had five aces, while Bostic had three.

Nikiski jumps back into conference play, visiting Houston today at 6:30 p.m. and Redington on Saturday at noon.

The Kenai Central volleyball team celebrates in a dogpile on the floor Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, after defeating Soldotna at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Central volleyball team celebrates in a dogpile on the floor Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, after defeating Soldotna at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Chelsea Plagge (left) and Abby Every team up for a block Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Chelsea Plagge (left) and Abby Every team up for a block Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Trayce Lyon puts up a block on Kenai hitter Bethany Morris Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Trayce Lyon puts up a block on Kenai hitter Bethany Morris Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula sends up a shot against Kenai’s Abby Every Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula sends up a shot against Kenai’s Abby Every Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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