The Kenai Central volleyball team defeated Nikiski 22-25, 25-15, 27-25 and 25-14 on Thursday in Southcentral Conference play at Nikiski Middle-High School.
The Kardinals moved to 5-1 in nontournament play and 4-0 in the league, while the Bulldogs fell to 6-4 in nontournament play and 0-1 in the league.
It was yet another highly competitive match between two peninsula teams this season.
“We’ve been talking about that all season — the stronger peninsula teams are, the better it is for all of us,” Kenai Central head coach Tracie Beck said. “I’m proud of my girls. They fought through and battled it out, which is good.
“I don’t think it was our best game, but they still pulled it out.”
Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura also had mixed feelings, happy with taking a game off the Kards, but still feeling her team can improve.
“I’m not happy with the inconsistency and the fluctuation in play in each set,” she said. “But I am happy with what we exposed tonight.”
Segura said her squad showed what they could do when they went point for point with the Kardinals, as in Game 1 when a Zoey Ellis kill finished off the 25-22 victory.
The problem is keeping Kenai from taking big leads by going on service runs.
The Kardinals rode a dynamic attack in winning Class 3A state last season and finishing runner-up the year before.
Kenai can still attack, though a tough Nikiski defense made the Kards work for everything. Thursday, Kate Wisnewski had 38 assists, while Emma Beck had 22 kills, Ellsi Miller and Sophie Tapley had six kills and Avia Miller had five kills.
The Kardinals have added all-around nasty serving and are very solid on defense, and those two factors were bigger than the attack in winning Thursday.
“Usually it’s our attack, and what we focus on a lot is our offense,” coach Beck said. “We have worked really hard on our serving and defense, and you can see that tonight it saved us.”
After Game 1, Nikiski had extended periods of struggling to pass serve, and that allowed Kenai to take three straight.
“We always work on it,” Segura said of serve-receive. “The girls are aware that it is a struggle. But it’s something we continue to get better at.
“I’m confident come regions that, that will be dialed down and we’ll have it figured out.”
In Game 3, Nikiski fought back from an early deficit and led 24-22, but Beck had three straight kills for a 25-24 lead. Coach Beck also gave Camilla Gonzalez credit for serving out two of those points.
“That’s the type of thing you can’t practice in practice,” Beck said. “You can try and put as much pressure on them as possible, but the only time you really know is in a game like that.”
Ashlynne Playle had a kill to make it 25-all, but a Grace Beiser kill and Nikiski hitting error ended the game.
Segura said there’s a right and wrong way to lose, and she thought Thursday was a good loss.
“We actually put up a good fight and we’re working for it,” she said. “Things just weren’t going our way with a few minor inconsistencies.”
Jaycie Castillo led the Kenai defense with 40 digs, while Wisnewski added 13 digs, Avia Miller had two blocks, Beck had five aces, 19 digs and two blocks, Gonzalez had 19 digs, and Ellsi Miller had six kills, three aces and three blocks.
Segura said Alexa Iyatunguk had seven kills in a quiet, consistent manner. Maggie Grenier had two aces, 21 digs and 12 assists, Playle had eight kills and five blocks, Stynsberg had 23 digs and Mandee Roofe had six kills and five blocks.