After showing up last weekend to support their friendly peninsula rivals, the Nikiski volleyball team felt the love back Tuesday night in a Southcentral Conference victory over Kenai Central.
Nikiski defeated Kenai 3-1 at home, winning by scores of 25-16, 27-25, 22-25 and 25-20, and cheering them on from the bleachers were members of the Class 4A Soldotna program, and there was a reason for that.
Friday at Soldotna, several of Nikiski’s players showed up in tie-dyed shirts for SoHi’s “Tip for Tori Night” against Palmer, which celebrated the life of Tori Verba, an incoming freshman who died in an ATV accident in June.
Tuesday at Nikiski, a handful of Stars players joined the Bulldogs faithful in cheering on their Class 3A rivals, and Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura noticed.
“It’s so awesome for them return the favor,” Segura said. “They were loud and obnoxious and it’s just super cool to have another support system in the community from another school. A lot of them are great friends with the girls on the team from club, and I know a lot of the girls as well.
“It’s super cool, team spirit is awesome and it’s supposed to be fun.”
Nikiski improved to 2-0 in the conference, 2-1 overall, while Kenai dropped to 0-2 in both. The match featured a tense second set which saw Kenai take game point, only for Nikiski to rally with three consecutive points to win it.
Segura said she was pleased to see steady gains from the varsity team’s greener players, such as sophomore hitter Jaycee Tauriainen, who had 22 digs to go with 13 assists, Rosalie Anderson, Savannah Ley and Elora Reichert.
“They’re really stepping outside their comfort zone and getting better,” Segura said. “You can see it. It takes a huge weight off the experienced players, and the younger players are working to where they’re gaining that trust on the team as well. That’s really important.
“The older girls are letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes. I think that’s a huge thing.”
Kenai head coach Tracy Beck said while she was pleased to see the Kardinals hang with the defending 3A state champions, there are still weaknesses that Kenai must shore up.
“Still have a lot of work to do,” Beck said. “I’m loving the grind, we work so hard to be in that position, and loving the battle is a big deal.”
Beck said Nikiski’s disciplined defense played a big role in holding off the Kards, particularly in the second set thriller.
“When we’re playing against a state team, they’re a step ahead of us,” Beck said.
Kenai took the early lead in Game 1 with a 6-2 advantage, but mistakes doomed the Kards during a 12-2 Nikiski run.
In the second game, Kenai again blazed out of the gates to take a 6-2 lead, but another Bulldogs run, this one an eight-point swing, put Nikiski ahead.
Nikiski led 20-13 at one point, but the Kards buckled down and forced the Bulldogs into several mistakes at the net to claw back. Kenai scored eight straight to take a 23-21 lead, then held game point at 25-24 after a stuff block by Chelsea Plagge and Erin Koziczkowski.
However, the experience of Nikiski showed up and the Bulldogs clicked off three straight points to win it and take a 2-0 match lead.
In Game 3, Kenai yet again started quick with big kills from Jaiden Streiff and Abby Every, and while Nikiski came back to make it a game at 22-21, Kenai managed to hold on to slash the match score to 2-1.
Finally, in Game 4, it was Nikiski making the early moves, staking out a 13-7 advantage that gave the Bulldogs enough of a cushion to hang on, despite a late Kenai charge.
For Nikiski, Kaycee Bostic blasted 13 kills with two blocks, while Lillian Carstens added 12 kills and three blocks. Senior libero America Jeffreys and setter Kaitlyn Johnson had 26 digs apiece, while Johnson added seven aces.
Bethany Morris rallied the Kenai offense with 14 kills and 10 digs. Also for the Kards, Savanna Wilson tallied seven kills, Every had five kills and Kaylee Lauritsen served out six aces.