This is a night they can’t take away from the Kenai Central volleyball team.
Home floor with rabid student section. Match against Northern Lights Conference archrival Soldotna. A night in which seniors were honored after starting with coach Tracie Beck in seventh grade.
With all that ringing in the air, the Kardinals played what Beck called the squad’s best match of the year and pulled out a 25-21, 25-20, 20-25 and 25-23 victory over the Stars.
“It being our biggest rivals on senior night, and the last time I will play on my home floor, it was an amazing experience,” Kenai senior Abby Beck said after amassing 10 kills, 21 digs and five aces.
Tuesday showed how crazy the Northern Lights Conference tournament could be when it goes off in a week and a half.
Soldotna is second in the six-team league, but finished NLC play at 6-4 and 11-4 overall by losing to the fifth-place Kards, who are now 3-5 and 8-5 overall.
The Stars could have clinched the No. 2 seed with a win over Kenai or a loss by Palmer on Tuesday, but the Moose handed Wasilla its first conference loss to move to 5-4.
Palmer, which split with the Stars in conference play, could move into a tie with SoHi by winning at Colony on Friday. Meanwhile, Kenai can move up the standings with games at Kodiak, currently 0-8 in the NLC, Friday and Saturday.
“It continues to show how even our region matches are,” Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. “Kenai was more consistent than we were tonight.
“Regions is going to be a battle.”
An emotional night where seniors Beck, Patricia Catacutan, Bethany Coghill, Caleigh Jensen, Emily Koziczkowski, Cierra King, Jill Kindred and Shanija Walters were honored could have gone one of two ways, and Kenai served notice early which way that would be.
The Kardinals came out with great ball control in the first two games to go up 2-0.
“We’re able to open up offensively when our passing is on,” Abby Beck said. “Then they don’t know where it’s coming from.”
After playing against Abby Beck for a long time, Kupferschmid said the senior was at her most consistent Tuesday.
Tracie Beck said that’s because of how well her team played.
“Usually, they gun at Abigail,” coach Beck said. “They try and serve at her and make her pass.
“That doesn’t work as well when other players step up.”
King had six kills and four stuff blocks, while Koziczkowski had two aces and three kills, giving setter Bethany Coghill, who had 17 assists and three aces, plenty of options.
And other players had helpful spurts, like Jensen’s two aces, or Catacutan providing the difference by serving for six points in Game 1 and knocking down four aces on the evening.
In the second game, King was big with a kill and two stuff blocks as Coghill served out six points for a 12-5 lead that SoHi could only cut to four late in the game.
In the third game, SoHi’s hard serves and attack finally started affecting Kenai’s ball control.
Shaylynn Zener, who had 22 digs, served out six straight points as the Stars grabbed an 11-5 lead.
Sophomore Kodi McGillivary also caught fire on the outside, finishing with eight kills after just one in the first two games.
“I think she opened up the match for us by putting away balls on the outside,” Kupferschmid said of McGillivary.
McGillivary was just one of many young players for SoHi, with junior setter Cally Christianson getting three blocks, junior Ella Stenga getting seven kills and three blocks, sophomore Aliann Schmidt getting three blocks and freshman Ituau Tuisaula getting seven kills, two aces and four blocks.
Senior Drewe Zeek had five kills and six blocks, while senior Abi Tuttle had 24 passes.
Kupferschmid said she was happy for her young squad to have the experience of feeling the heat in the crucible that is Cliff Massie Court when the students are in full body paint and at full volume.
“It’s great for volleyball,” Kupferschmid said. “I love it. It’s great for the girls.”
Even though Kenai was down 16-11 in Game 3, coach Beck said it was key the Kards were able to come back and tie the match at 20 before losing.
“We definitely held our cool,” Abby Beck said. “Sometimes we struggle with roller coaster games.
“We didn’t panic at the end of games and that’s a big step forward.”
In Game 4, Kenai was behind 17-12, but again found its way back behind Beck’s howitzer of a top-spin jump serve, which scored five straight to put Kenai up 18-17.
Coghill then had three key service points late to put Kenai up 23-20.
“I’m super proud of this group,” Abby Beck said. “I couldn’t think of a better group of girls to do this with.”
As for SoHi, Kupferschmid said her team confirmed after the match that they still intend to play at state.
The Stars will need to be more consistent, particularly from the service line, where they missed 16 serves to Kenai’s six.
“It’s back to practice to work on consistency,” Kupferschmid said. “I give the kids the green light to serve competitive and tough, and with that comes misses.”
Nikiski 3, Seward 0
Nikiski clinched the No. 2 seed out of the Southcentral Conference with a straight-sets victory Tuesday night in Seward, winning with scores of 25-7, 25-21 and 25-17.
The Bulldogs finished out their conference season with a 10-2 record, and will finish their nonconference slate Saturday with a game against Soldotna. Grace Christian won the regular season with a perfect 12-0 mark
In a season which saw the Bulldogs play Grace to five sets on two occasions, Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said she felt good about her squad’s postseason chances.
“I feel we’re in a very good spot for regions at the end of the year,” Segura said. “We’re not having to worry about any slumps right now, we’re getting better as we play, and we’re going up from there.”
Jamie Yerkes had seven kills and four aces to lead the Nikiski offense, while Ayla Pitt notched four kills and Emily Hensley had three aces.
Melanie Sexton provided 25 digs, libero Kelsey Clark had 13 digs and four aces, Kaitlyn Johnson finished with 14 assists and three aces, Emma Wik had eight assists and Bethany Carstens had two blocks.