The Kenai Central volleyball team has worked hard on doing things like club volleyball, quick sets and jump serves that make for competitive teams in the Northern Lights Conference.
The one area where the Kardinals needed a breakthrough was belief, and that watershed moment may have come Friday in a 25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 21-25, 15-10 victory over Wasilla.
The Kardinals move to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the league, while Wasilla falls to 1-2 and 0-2.
Kenai had just one victory in the league last year, and no victories in the league the year before that. All that losing is tough to rinse from the system.
“They really are their own worst enemy,” Kenai coach Tracie Beck said of her squad. “They trip themselves up.
“It’s hard to teach the kids how to win against the big teams in the state.”
The Kards had a golden opportunity for a breakthrough win slip through their fingers Wednesday, when they lost a five-setter to Palmer. Beck said after that match that Kenai had Palmer in Games 4 and 5, but didn’t know how to finish.
After a disappointing sweep at the hands of Colony on Thursday, the Kards got the conference win in front of a raucous homecoming crowd Friday.
“I don’t think it should have gone to five, but we pulled it out at the end,” said Kenai’s Kiana Harding, who had 11 kills and an ace. “Emotionally, mentally and physically, it was an amazing experience.”
After Kenai rode early leads to victories in the first two games, Wasilla coach Josie Cannon did some successful tinkering with her personnel.
What particularly worked was putting outside hitters Amber Sizemore, who had 20 kills, and Andraia Bella together.
Wasilla won two games to attempt the tough process of digging from an 0-2 hole.
“It’s very hard to get out of that hole,” Cannon said. “You have to be perfect the rest of the match.
“We were perfect in three and four, but not in five.”
Harding said the problems for the Kards in the third and fourth games were more with the head than with the hands.
“Volleyball is just a mind game,” she said. “You have to have composure and find your way out of it.”
Beck said the Kards come out playing well, but then focus too much on their mistakes.
“We have to understand life is about mistakes,” Beck said. “We have to grow from them and learn from them. We can’t get to the point where we’re afraid to make mistakes.”
In Game 5, Sierra Hall, who had three kills, served out two points and Abby Beck, who had 13 assists, four kills and an ace, served out three points as the Kards bolted to a 6-2 lead.
Wasilla had a hard time generating momentum after that. With the score 9-4, the Warriors put together a marathon point where they somehow scraped up a ball inches from the floor, but Alli Steinbeck put the Kards up 10-4 with a kill.
At that point, the Kenai football team filed in after practice and made the gym even louder in favor of Kenai.
“That’s always a thing when we come to Kenai,” Cannon said. “They have very loud fans.”
Harding scored the last two points for the Kards with a kill.
“Our goal is to make it to state, and that’s what we kept saying in the huddle,” Harding said.
Jamie Bagley had 32 digs for Kenai, while Amber Walters had eight assists and Emily Koziczkowski had two kills.
For Wasilla, Ashlyn Dorn had seven kills, Brooke Queripal had six kills, Peyton Mobley had 42 assists and four aces, and Courtney Anthoney had five aces.
WASILLA 3, SOLDOTNA 2
The Stars came within two points of sweeping the weekend series against the Valley teams in the Northern Lights Conference, coming up short Saturday against the Warriors with scores of 23-25, 25-21, 16-25, 25-19 and 13-15.
After beating Palmer 3-1 on Thursday, Soldotna swept Colony 3-0 Friday before facing Wasilla Saturday.
“I think fatigue just became a bit of a factor,” Kupferschmid said. “But I am so proud of them, they are fighters, and we didn’t always have the best execution but the hustle and effort was there.”
Kupferschmid said the fifth set came down to staking out an early lead, something that Wasilla was able to do first.
“We got in a hole early but we managed to claw back,” Kupferschmid said. “Skylar sent them a great serve, but they passed the kill to their center and that was it.”
Hayley Ramsell led the Stars with 11 kills and five blocks, Ashe provided 25 digs and seven service points, Makenna Rosin had nine kills and seven blocks, Hayley Miller had eight kills and four blocks, Bailey Rosin recorded 13 digs and six service points, and Lindsey Wong had nine digs and six service points.
“I’m really pleased with the three-day Valley stand,” Kupferschmid said. “I hope this springs us forward to even more success.”
SOLDOTNA 3, COLONY 0
SoHi eased its way to a straight-sets sweep Friday against the Knights, winning with scores of 25-21, 25-12 and 25-14.
“It was just, wow,” Kupferschmid said of her team’s execution. “We had great speed and control, and Hayley Ramsell just had a monster game.”
Ramsell racked up 20 kills to go along with five blocks and four service points. Teammates Skylar Shaw had six kills and five service points, Makenna Rosin added five kills and six blocks, Alex Ashe and Lindsey Wong each had seven service points, Hayley Miller recorded six service points and five blocks, and Bailey Rosin had three kills and service points each.
SoHi will be on the road in the coming days, with games in Homer on Tuesday and Kodiak on Friday and Saturday.