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Kenai volleyball advances to 3rd straight title game; Nikiski finishes 5th

The Kenai Central volleyball team moved to the championship of the Class 3A state tournament by defeating Sitka 25-16, 25-21 and 25-17 on Friday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

The Kardinals, the runner-up at the last two state tournaments, will play in the championship match at 2 p.m. against the winner of a Saturday morning match between Sitka and Valdez. If Kenai loses the championship match of the double-elimination tournament, the Kards can still win state in an if-necessary game to 30 points.

Nikiski ended its season Friday by losing to Valdez and finishes the tournament tied for fifth place.

Against Sitka, Emma Beck had 21 kills, Genesis Trevino had seven kills, Jorgi Phillips had 34 assists and three aces, Kimberly Chanley had 31 digs and three aces, and Jaycie Castillo had 10 digs. Cali Holmes was player of the match and Kenai coach Tracie Beck also said Avia Miller was great at the net hitting and blocking.

“I feel like the girls showed up and took care of business and are one step closer to their goal,” Beck said.

Beck said the Kards have a nice mix of experience and inexperience at state.

“Between the two groups, there’s great balance,” she said. “There’s kids excited to be there and kids determined to reach their goal.”

Beck said several in the crowd commented on Kenai’s muted celebration after reaching the finals.

“I think they were ready to get to the next big game,” the coach said of her team.

Friday, Kenai moved to the semifinal against Sitka with a pair of victories.

The Kardinals started their day by defeating Nome-Beltz 25-11, 25-14 and 25-13. Beck had 10 kills, three assists and 10 digs, while Phillips had 17 assists, three kills and three aces, and Chanley had 16 digs and was named player of the match.

“It was fun to get all the players in that traveled up with us,” Beck said. “They just stayed steady and took care of business.”

Kenai defeated defending state champion Valdez 17-25, 25-23, 25-19 and 25-13 in a night match.

Beck had 18 kills, while Cali Holmes 13 kills, Phillips had 34 assists and four aces, Chanley had 34 digs and Camilla Gonzalez had 22 digs.

Coach Beck said Emma got player of the game, but that it could have been a number of players. Coach Beck said Phillips, Holmes and Chanley all had amazing matches, while Gonzalez had the best match coach Beck has seen Gonzalez play. The coach also said Avia Miller blocked and hit well.

Coach Beck said the Kardinals got off to a slow start.

“It was just wanting it so bad you kind of get in your own way,” she said.

Beck said it was great watching Kenai turn the match around.

“I was so grateful watching these women,” Beck said. “They’re teenage girls, so of course they are up and down, but when anybody is down, the rest work that much harder to make it happen.”

Nikiski ended its season Friday with a 25-11, 18-25, 25-16 and 25-16 loss to Valdez.

Ashlynne Playle had 13 kills and seven blocks, while Savanna Stock had eight kills, 13 digs and 12 assists, and Kailey Stynsberg had 15 digs.

Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said she always has confidence in her team, but even the coach was surprised by the way the Bulldogs played against Valdez.

“We gave it our best shot,” Segura said. “I’m proud of that loss. We talk about working hard whether we’re winning or losing.

“If we were going to lose, we wanted them to have a game we could be proud of. We tried everything, things just weren’t going our way. It was a great way to go out today.”

Earlier Friday, Nikiski defeated Barrow 19-25, 22-25, 25-16, 25-23 and 15-13. Nikiski had been 0-5 in games at various tournaments against the Whalers before Friday.

Alexa Iyatunguk had six kills and four blocks, while Playle had nine kills and five blocks, Stock had nine kills, Stynsberg had 23 digs and Maggie Grenier had 22 assists.

“It was definitely refreshing,” Segura said. “I think the girls finally felt validated they belonged at state.

“They found their stride and started working together. They were down two games and had to figure it out or be done.”

In the first round Thursday, Nikiski lost 25-21, 25-13 and 25-21 to Sitka.

Stynsberg had 24 digs, while Playle had seven kills, Stock had three kills and 18 assists, and Avery White had four kills and two aces.

Segura said none of her team had been to state, so inexperience hurt in that first match.

Nikiski loses seniors Stock and Ember Nelson.

“The girls grew as much this season as they have in any season,” Segura said. “I’m definitely excited for next season.”

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