The Kenai Kardinals won out over the visiting Nikiski Bulldogs 3-0 during their homecoming volleyball match Thursday. The scores were 25-18, 25-17 and 25-18.
Kenai moves to 5-0 in nontournament play, 3-0 in the Southcentral Conference. Nikiski is 0-2 in the conference, 1-2 overall.
Kardinals head coach Tracie Beck said homecoming is always a tough week.
“You have a bunch of teenage girls who are already spread so thin,” she said. “They’re involved in leadership, they’re doing homecoming floats, they’re getting the dance ready.”
Even the victory over the Bulldogs doesn’t take the pressure off.
“Winning and taking it in three always feels great, but I just feel like we have so much work to do,” Beck said.
That work will begin Monday, Beck said.
“Let them just enjoy this time of their life,” she said. “Because it’s short.”
The first game opened with the teams largely staying on equal footing, before Nikiski managed to build a lead that the Bulldogs maintained until the score was 14-10 in their favor.
Kenai managed to start regaining ground, reclaiming the lead. Nikiski called the first timeout of the night as the score hit 17-15, this time for the Kardinals.
The Bulldogs never managed to regain control, the first set closing at 25-18.
For Nikiski on Thursday, Avery White led kills with five, while Ashlynne Playle and Savanna Stock had four. Playle also had three aces, while Avery Ellis had two. Kailey Stynsberg led with 17 digs, followed by White with nine and Maggie Grenier with seven. Stock had 10 assists.
Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura said that her girls played strong and stayed in competition the whole night against a top contender in the conference.
“We come out strong and play our best because then we can hopefully expose their weaknesses and show our strength. And I thought we did that well tonight,” the coach said.
Segura said that White showed up Thursday.
“She was all over the place, digging balls, that was the best I’ve ever seen her hit,” she said. “She was fearless.”
Segura said being fearless is a key theme for the team this season.
“I want our errors to be on hard swings, not on miscommunications,” she said.
The second game followed a similar trajectory. The teams were trading shots until the score climbed to 11-10 for the Kards. Then, again, Kenai began to move ahead.
Nikiski called a timeout as the score was 20-15 for Kenai, but they were unable to stop the Kardinals from closing out the second set at 25-17.
Emma Beck led Kenai with 18 kills, followed by Avia Miller and Grace Beiser with four each. Kimberly Chanley had 17 digs and Jorgi Phillips had 24 assists.
Coach Beck said that Emma’s strong kill performance was only possible because she was enabled by the defensive play by Chanley.
The third game climbed to tied up at 12 before, for the third time, Kenai moved ahead, reaching 17-14.
Jaycie Castillo made a heroic save for Kenai, running all the way to the back wall and performing a j-hook to thunderous applause and returning the ball for what ultimately was another scoring play for Kenai.
“It is a momentum changer. Those are the things that you dream of, because everybody is so excited,” Beck said. “Everybody celebrated her effort.”
Once again, Nikiski called a timeout at 20-15, and again, Kenai’s momentum proved unstoppable, ending the game with a score of 25-18.
Beck said Nikiski is always fun to play against.
“They’re scrappy,” she said. “They just work hard, and they’re always a great team to have in our gym.”
Kenai volleyball will be away next week with games against Redington and Houston on Thursday and Friday.
Nikiski will be playing Seward today at 5 p.m.
Segura said: “We definitely have a lot of things that we documented during the game to go home and work on. Things we can use in the game against Seward.”
She said the game will be a little slower than Thursday’s match against Kenai. The team can take control, speed things up on their side and put up a good attack.
Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the j-hook to Camilla Gonzalez instead of Jaycie Castillo. It has been corrected.