The Kenai Central volleyball team defeated Nikiski 25-18 and 25-16 to take a fourth straight Shayna Pritchard Memorial Tournament title Saturday at Nikiski Middle-High School.
The tournament is held in honor of Pritchard, a 2007 Nikiski graduate who was killed in a car crash in Colorado in June 2007. Half of the tournament proceeds go to the Shayna Pritchard Scholarship Fund.
Kenai’s Emma Beck was named the tournament’s most valuable player for the second straight year, while Nikiski’s Evelyn Reichert was giving the Shayna Pritchard Award. That award goes to the athlete who best exemplifies Pritchard’s spirit of working hard and being a great teammate.
The tournament included four of the top five finishers at the Class 3A state tournament last season, plus Bethel and Class 4A school Palmer.
The Kardinals won the state championship, while Sitka was third, Monroe Catholic was fourth and Nikiski tied for fifth.
“What a great tournament to start the season,” Kenai head coach Tracie Beck said. “They’re all strong programs.
“I’m proud of the way we’re playing right now.”
Kenai and Nikiski went undefeated in pool play Friday, setting both up with first-round byes in Saturday’s bracket.
In the first round, Sitka topped Bethel 25-11 and 25-7, and Palmer topped Monroe 25-13 and 25-16.
In the semifinals, Kenai defeated Palmer 25-14 and 25-14, and Nikiski edged Sitka 25-19, 15-25 and 15-9.
Palmer defeated Sitka 25-15 and 25-17 for third place, while Bethel topped Monroe 25-16 and 25-22 for fifth place.
In the title game, Kenai clicked on defense, offense and serving the ball.
Jaycie Castillo led the defense with 15 digs.
“I wouldn’t say Kenai has ever been known for defense,” Beck said. “That hasn’t been our strength, usually.
“But we’ve been working hard at trying to improve that and the girls are doing great job executing.”
On offense, Beck had 14 kills despite getting heavy attention from Nikiski. That left the outside open, and Kate Wisnewski, who had 36 assists, found hitters like Sophie Tapley, who had six kills.
“Sophie was out there swinging hard and Grace (Beiser) was out there swinging hard,” Beck said. “Oftentimes, they have an open net, which you don’t get that often in the game of volleyball.”
Ellsi Miller had four aces for Kenai, while Camilla Gonzalez had three. Kenai’s serves often kept Nikiski from running an offense out of serve-receive.
“We’re trying to be a tougher serving team,” Beck said. “That’s what I asked them to do this tournament.
“They step up to challenges, which I love about this group.”
Nikiski lost one senior starter off last year’s team, but also will not have starter Avery White this season due to a knee injury.
Bulldogs head coach Stacey Segura said her squad is mixing in some new players. The coach is very happy with how fast those players are progressing.
“I’m not disappointed in a loss in the championship game at all,” Segura said. “I don’t think this team needs that kind of a win right now.
“I feel like it’s best if we just let that win happen when it’s the right time. I feel like it’s coming, though. They are eager to be coached and eager to get better.”
Led by Emma Beck, a four-year starter, Segura said Kenai has more experience and it showed in consistency. Segura said her team could only maintain consistency for the first 15 points of each game.
Kailey Stynsburg had 11 digs for Nikiski. Segura said several of those were impressive digs on powerful spikes by Beck.
Maggie Grenier had 12 digs and nine assists, while Mandee Roofe had four kills and two blocks, and Ashlynne Playle and Alexa Iyatunguk each had three kills.
Segura said not getting into an offense off serve-receive hurt the Bulldogs.
“You don’t want to give free balls to Kenai,” she said. “They’re going to turn around and shove it down your throats.
“I like having something to work on versus not having anything to work on. They grow and they get better and it’s just a really fun thing to see.”
Shayna Pritchard Memorial Tournament
MVP — Emma Beck, Kenai.
Shayna Pritchard Award — Evelyn Reichert, Nikiski.
All-tournament — Kate Wisnewski, Kenai; Ashlynne Playle, Nikiski; Khloe Ivy, Palmer; Kailey Stynsberg, Nikiski; Audrey Cahill, Palmer; Maggie Grenier, Nikiski; Hayla Trigg, Sitka; Ally Mayville, Sitka; Allie Alexie, Bethel.