The Kenai Central volleyball team defeated Sitka 25-14, 25-18 and 25-15 on Wednesday in nonconference action.
It was the regular season opener for two Class 3A powerhouses.
The Kardinals won their first state volleyball title last season after finishing second in 2021 and second in 2019. Sitka was third last year, fifth in 2021 and fourth in 2019.
“You know they’re going to show up and play,” Kenai head coach Tracie Beck said of the Wolves. “They’re competitive in volleyball and basketball.
“They’re good athletes, and we don’t take that for granted. That was a great win for us.”
Sitka assistant coach Kristi Brady said her team was up at 4 a.m. Wednesday to catch the plane in Sitka. The Wolves landed in Anchorage and drove to Kenai.
“We have 13 miles of road in Sitka and the kids aren’t used to being in the car for longer than like three minutes,” Brady said.
The assistant said playing the defending state champs in front of rowdy students makes the trip worth it. Sitka lost three seniors from last year’s team.
“We have a decent mix of age and youth,” Brady said. “The youth has a lot of nerves they have to work their way through.
“This is a good environment for them to feel, to play in and realize what their body does in an environment like this and get used to that.”
The Kardinals lost four starters off the title team. Kenai spent the summer in the gym, and also added a tournament in Arizona and a camp, to get ready for the title defense.
“Those are all big shoes to fill,” Beck said of the four departed starters. “But I think these girls are up for the challenge.”
Kenai does return Emma Beck, who is the reigning Southcentral Conference MVP and also going into her fourth year as a starter.
Beck led the way with 18 kills. Coach Beck said her daughter is not content and keeps adding things to her game.
“Just that consistency and accountability is a huge anchor for our team, for sure,” Tracie Beck said.
Jaycie Castillo, taking over the libero spot this year, had 25 digs.
Beck wasn’t happy with the consistency of the defense, but she was happy with how well the defense looked in spurts.
“Today, our block did a pretty decent job,” Beck said. “That’s what makes Jaycie look good is when our block is set right.
“She can see what’s coming at her and they take away part of the court.”
Kate Wisnewski, taking over as varsity setter, had 27 assists. Grace Beiser had three aces.
“We’re just getting going, but it doesn’t look like that, because usually it’s a little more discombobulated at the beginning of the season,” Beck said. “We had some of that, definitely, but a lot of the game flowed really well.”
Sitka travels to Homer for a 6 p.m. match Thursday. The Wolves and the Kardinals will then play in the Shayna Pritchard Memorial Tournament on Friday and Saturday in Nikiski.
“This is a good place to start,” Brady said. “Now we can see a few things that we’ve got to shift and we’ve got to change.