Nikiski ekes out close volleyball win over Homer

The host Nikiski volleyball team saved a match point in picking up a five-set victory over Homer on Tuesday in Southcentral Conference play.

The Bulldogs won 23-25, 25-23, 25-7, 18-25 and 16-14 to move to 3-1 in the league and 3-2 overall. Homer drops to 1-3 in the league.

Nikiski had to dig out of an 11-6 hole to take the final game, but an attack led by junior middle hitter Ayla Pitt, who finished with eight kills and five blocks, was up to the task.

Melanie Sexton, who had six kills, earned a side-out, then Lauren O’Brien, who had 20 digs, served out five points for a 12-11 lead. Pitt had kills on two of those points, and on two others she walled the ball to the floor when Homer’s serve-receive passing got too close to the net.

But Homer fought back, as a kill by Paige Snyder, who finished with seven kills and four digs, gave the Mariners a match point at 14-13.

Homer had a hitting error to make it 14-all, then Brittany Perry, who finished with eight kills and seven aces, gave the Bulldogs match point with a kill. Pitt then put away the match with a kill.

“She’s a very smart player,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said of Pitt. “I feel like she’s always in control.

“She knows where the defense is and where to put the ball. It’s something we’ve been working on for three years.”

The match featured two teams finding their way after losing important leaders from last season, when Nikiski finished fourth at the Class 3A state tournament, and Homer tied for fifth. The squads also were hit with lineup changes this week.

Homer had two players come up ineligible this week. The Mariners normally use a two-setter system, but in Tuesday’s match McKi Needham, who had six aces, had to handle all the setting.

Homer coach Pam Rugluski said Needham did the best with a tough situation.

“She’s developing into a good leader,” Rugluski said.

Segura said her squad was dealing with injury, ineligibility and illness. The Bulldogs recently lost freshman middle hitter Bethany Carstens to a season-ending knee injury.

Perhaps due the novel lineups and loss of energy players from last year, both coaches would have liked to see their squads a little more fired up during the exciting, razor-thin match.

“We’re not using energy like we could,” Rugluski said. “When they make a mistake, we need to gain energy from that. It’s a very soft-spoken team.”

Segura also found watching from the sidelines tough.

“I thought I was going to pass out,” she said. “We don’t have a superstar this year, and that’s a good and bad thing.”

Segura said the good thing is everybody knows they must pull their own weight in order for the team to win. But the bad thing is, so far, there is nobody that makes a play, goes crazy celebrating, and fires up the entire squad.

Rugluski is in a similar situation.

“We have kids that didn’t get much playing time last year stepping into key positions,” she said. “It’s a building year — I hate the phrase — but it’s a build ing year for our team.”

The match was a seesaw affair that saw each side yield strings of points when serve-receive went awry. In the first game, Homer’s Kelly Liebers served seven straight points for a 21-13 lead.

Brianna Vollertson, who had 11 aces, had four straight points to close to 24-23, but a Nikiski hitting error ended the game.

In the second game, Perry had six straight points for a 24-16 lead.

“She’s been doing really well,” Segura said of Perry. “She’s a solid person to have on the court, and that’s why I make sure she’s always out there.”

The third game was decided by the fiery serve of Vollertson, who had 10 straight points for a 22-5 lead.

“It was great to see her make that many serves in a row,” Segura said. “She used to be able to make about three in a row, but we’ve been working on that.”

Homer came right back in Game 4. Malina Fellows, who had seven kills and five aces, served out eight straight for a 13-9 lead. Needham then had four straight for a 20-12 advantage to set up Game 5.

Emily Hensley had 20 assists for the Bulldogs, while PK Woo added seven kills for the Mariners.

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