Sometimes, seeing an opponent for the second time helps a team figure out where their weaknesses lie.
The Kenai Central volleyball squad may have already been the favorite to win over a smaller Seward team, but proved it with a 3-0 nonconference victory Friday night at Kenai Central High School.
The Kardinals won with game scores of 25-10, 25-23 and 25-23. Kenai moved its record to 5-4 overall, while Seward dropped to 2-8 in nontournament play.
Kenai had beaten Seward 3-1 on the road earlier in the season, but an improved Kardinals group did one better with a clean sweep the second time around.
“I think we were a little more prepared than the first time we played them,” said senior middle hitter Kiana Harding. “It’s pretty much a mental game, you gotta be ready for anything.”
Harding racked up hit after hit on several strong attacks toward the Seward defense, and ended the night with four aces.
“They’re a scrappy team so we took care of it early and we knew what they were throwing at us,” Harding said.
Teammates Abby Beck ended with seven assists, six kills and nine digs, Amber Walters had nine assists and five aces, libero Jamie Bagley notched 11 digs, and Kyla Whannell provided seven assists.
Kenai coach Tracie Beck said she is continuing to tinker with the ongoing process of figuring out the ideal lineup on the court, but playing against a nonconference opponent like Seward, she can afford to try untested rotations.
“I’m still looking for a couple spots for us to get stronger in,” Beck said. “That’s why I feel like these games are great to try that in. I still don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle put together yet.”
Seward coach Jamie Frederickson did not make the trip due to being called in for jury duty, so assistant coaches Jodi Kurtz and Maggie Fleming stepped up and took the reigns.
“I think they good, they had Maggie here, which helped them,” Kurtz said. “She always helps out in practices. I just work with the C-team usually.”
Kurtz said she was most pleased with her squad’s communication on the court, even when she was making rotation changes for the second set.
“Normally I don’t think Jamie changes it, but I did it to keep the enthusiasm going,” Kurtz said.
Ultimately, Carrie Anderson ended with 14 hits to lead the team, Paige Carter-Kurtz notched three digs, and Maria Jackson had eight hits and three digs.
It was clear from the start that Kenai was determined to win on its own court. Harding controlled the front of the nets with a tough attacking game to stake out a 10-2 Kenai lead, and Walters finished it off with a pair of serving points to take the win.
The second game did not come as easily for the Kards. Kenai took an early lead, but Seward fought back with stout defensive play to force the home team into mistakes.
“We just kind of broke down, I guess,” Harding said. “We were thinking we were gonna win the next game, but it ends up that they were stuck in our heads. But we got them at the end, so that was what mattered.”
Jackson led the Seahawks during the midway charge with a number of crucial serves that caught Kenai off balance. After Seward took a 22-17 lead, coach Beck decided to call timeout.
“We haven’t gotten calls like we did this game, ever,” Beck said. “You could see some of that rattled us. You can’t help but get rattled with that. We were in Anchorage and didn’t see those calls and other places and didn’t get those.
“The cool thing about that is it’s an opportunity to grow.”
And grow they did. A refreshed Kenai group walked back on the court and proceeded to claw back with four straight service points from Alli Steinbeck. Kenai finished with an 8-1 run that gave them the slim 2-point win.
In the deciding third set, Seward led early with a 10-7 advantage, but Kenai rolled off six straight points to take the lead.
The Kards boosted their lead to as high as 19-12, but the Seahawks came back to tie the game up at 23 apiece with help from Jackson’s serving game.
The two winning points came on a tipped ball from Harding and a sideout delivered by Seward, giving Kenai the win.
Kenai will take a few days off before getting back to action next weekend against Palmer, Colony and Wasilla.