Soldotna juniors Ituau Tuisaula (13) and Bailey Leach team up to block a ball by Nikiski’s Bethany Carstens, Tuesday at Soldotna High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna juniors Ituau Tuisaula (13) and Bailey Leach team up to block a ball by Nikiski’s Bethany Carstens, Tuesday at Soldotna High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski escapes with 5-set win over SoHi

So far, so good for the losing thing for the Nikiski volleyball team.

The Bulldogs shook off their first loss of the season by defeating host Soldotna 25-21, 20-25, 25-19, 20-25 and 15-8 on Tuesday in nonconference play.

Last season, Nikiski went undefeated in conference play during the regular season only to lose in the conference championship. Before this season, coach Stacey Segura said taking a few losses during the regular season might not be such a bad thing.

The Bulldogs lost Saturday at Southcentral Conference foe Grace Christian, but are now rolling again at 3-1 overall after defeating the Stars (6-1 overall). SoHi is a Class 4A school while Nikiski is a step smaller at Class 3A.

“There were no signs of negativity,” Segura said. “The girls did exactly what I asked of them.

“It looked like night and day compared to Saturday. It was a whole different team.”

Nikiski senior Emma Wik filled up the stat sheet with 14 assists, 14 digs, seven kills, two aces and two blocks. Segura said Wik played defense as she never had before.

“We blew through a lot of teams last year, but it was humbling to get that loss Saturday,” Wik said. “We worked on our weaknesses in practice.”

Nikiski’s biggest problem against the Grizzlies was covering against the block. When an attacker swings, that attacker needs to know that if the ball is blocked, teammates will be below her to make sure the ball stays in play.

“We were just tipping because we were afraid of getting blocked,” Segura said.

Tuesday, the Bulldogs made the adjustment and, with hitters swinging freely, the offense ran better than it has all year. Bethany Carstens led with 13 kills, but Lillian Carstens had six kills and Kaitlyn Johnson had six kills to go along with her nine assists.

Segura said it was nice to branch out from middles Bethany Carstens and Kaycee Bostic, who had two blocks.

“There have been times when we’re running only through the middle this year,” Segura said.

Even with so much clicking for Nikiski, the Stars did not go down without a fight in a match that swung back and forth. The Bulldogs handed the Stars their first nontournament loss of the season, just as SoHi had done to Nikiski on the same floor last season.

“They’re a very good team,” SoHi head coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. “I think their front row and their back row are very strong. They have good athletes.”

The coach said her squad found it hard at times to finish against a defense which received 20 digs from Kelsey Clark and 15 digs from America Jeffreys.

Kupferschmid said her hitters need to get stronger and more variety in shots, while the setters must get more experience.

“We need to put balls away,” she said.

Ituau Tuisaula and Aliann Schmidt did the best job putting balls away with 13 kills and four blocks apiece. Bailey Leach had eight kills and three blocks, while Kodi McGillivray had seven kills, Carsen Brown had 30 assists, Kalyn McGillivray had 10 assists and Holleigh Jaime had 17 digs.

In the fourth game, Tuisaula had three late kills and three late service points to force a Game 5. But Bostic served out three points early in the fifth set for a 6-2 lead and a usurping of the momentum.

“We didn’t get a great start in the fifth set and volleyball is a momentum game,” Kupferschmid said.

Wik said her squad was able to withstand the occasional flourishes of Soldotna’s powerful offense.

“We stayed really positive when we got down,” she said. “We kept our energy up and were able to get the momentum back.”

Wik served out the last six points of the match. Clark finished the match with a kill after the rally was extended by some amazing Nikiski defense.

Like Segura, Kupferschmid knows a loss can be a steppingstone.

“I hope it gives us a hungriness,” she said. “We’ve had good practices. The kids are working hard in practice.”

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