The social media hashtag #Bowerstrong took on a whole new meaning Tuesday night at Kenai Central High School in an event that underscored the meaning of community.
On the night that the Kenai Central volleyball team would typically host their annual breast cancer fundraiser game, the Kardinals held a much more personal “Digging Deep for Donalen” to support 2016 Kenai Central graduate Donalen Bowers.
Bowers, 21, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in early July. The appearance of the disease is rare for people over the age of 5, and treatment required that Bowers move to Seattle.
Bowers’ younger sister, Candice, would have played her senior year this season, but had to miss out after the Bowers family made the temporary move to Seattle for Donalen’s treatment, which is expected to last about 15 months.
Beck said over $7,000 was raised Tuesday night between the silent auction and a $1,500 donation that an anonymous donor made before the match.
“I know that family is going to be ecstatic,” Beck said. “It’s huge. Once they see that number and I can tell them about how this community came together, it’s hope.”
With eye-catching signs, an energetic crowd and the slogan “Killing Cancer on Kenai” blazoned across their game shirts with #Bowerstrong on the back, the Kardinals toppled peninsula rival Nikiski 3-1, winning with game scores of 25-17, 21-25, 25-13 and 25-17.
The national anthem preceding the game was sung by the Kenai Central choir, which Bowers was a part of, and directed by KCHS choir teacher Simon Nissen.
Beck praised the hundreds of dollars of egg rolls cooked and sold by Rio Custodio, as well as the pottery pieces sculpted by players and students under the guidance of KCHS teacher John Morton, all of which went into the fundraising pot.
Junior outside hitter Bethany Morris said the team prayed for the Bowers family before the match, and earlier in the week got to speak with the family on the phone.
After the win, the Kenai team gathered around a cellphone as they FaceTimed the Bowers family to tell them the good news.
“Candice was a huge part of our team,” Morris said. “After losing her because of what happened, we just wanted to help her family out a lot. We wish she was here.”
Beck said the effort put forth by the community was more than she could have ever expected.
“It’s not going to cover everything, it’s not going to fix everything, but I’m stoked because this is something we could do,” Beck said. “It was just a full effort in our community.
“It was a perfect night in my world.”
The game wasn’t bad either. Spurred on by the rambunctious home crowd, the Kardinals laid claim to the night against the defending Class 3A champions with a powerful display of hitting, led by Morris, who ended the night with a game-high 19 kills to go with 11 digs and four aces.
“She just exploded,” Beck said. “She always could hit, and now you can see the other piece of it with what she’s been working on, and she executed beautifully.”
Morris was joined by senior Savanna Wilson with seven kills and junior Abby Every, who had six digs and four kills.
Jaiden Streiff led the defense with 13 digs, while Kaylee Lauritsen tallied 12 digs and Kailey Hamilton notched 11. Baileigh Skorupa added six kills and six digs.
Nikiski had beaten Kenai 3-1 on Sept. 17 in a Southcentral Conference game, but with the crowd energy and noise behind them, the Kardinals raised their game to new levels. Kenai staked out a 7-1 lead in the first set before the Bulldogs called timeout, and continued to open fire on a stunned Nikiski defense.
The Bulldogs answered back with a fast start in Game 2, scoring the first four points to take a 7-1 lead before Kenai had to take timeout. With seniors Kaycee Bostic and Kaitlyn Johnson fueling the offense, Nikiski scored five straight points midway through to take a 16-8 lead, helping to tie the match at 1.
The Bulldogs started quick again in the third set, only to watch Kenai catch fire with an 11-2 run midway through that gave the Kards a 15-8 advantage. Kenai scored nine of the last 12 points of the game to take a 2-1 match lead.
In the fourth set, Morris broke open a close game with a kill point and a service point, and Wilson added a pair of fiery kill points to push the lead to 12-7.
Every notched a pair of tips that helped extend the lead late in the going, which was enough for Kenai to hang on.
Nikiski’s attack was led by Bostic, who recorded 16 kills and four blocks. America Jeffreys had 20 digs for Nikiski, Kaitlyn Johnson notched 16 assists and sophomore Bryli Mullin had four blocks in place of junior Lillian Carstens, who missed the game to illness.