Having shaken off early season injury problems, the Nikiski and Homer volleyball squads met on the court Tuesday night with fully healthy squads, and Nikiski prevailed with a dominating three-set sweep of Homer, winning with scores of 25-9, 25-15 and 25-11.
The win bumped Nikiski to 4-0 in the Southcentral Conference and overall standings, while Homer dropped to 1-2 in conference play, 2-4 overall.
Just prior to a nonconference contest against Soldotna last week, the Mariners lost starting setter Kelli Bishop to a turned ankle in warmups, and teammate Brianna Hetrick had yet to play in a varsity game due to a previous injury before the season started.
Meanwhile, Nikiski started its season without junior Bethany Carstens, who was still healing from an ACL tear suffered late in the high school hoops season in March.
With all three competitors out on the floor Tuesday, the game was a truly meaningful clash of conference contenders.
“Homer I think has good chemistry and they’re so scrappy,” said Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura.
Nikiski is fresh off a spirited run at the West Spiketacular tournament in Anchorage last weekend, where Carstens made her season varsity debut. Segura said the powerful middle hitter picked up where she left off from last year.
“Bethany’s been doing little things in practice, and it’s helped her adjust well to the rotation,” Segura said. “Plus she’s really good friends with all the girls.”
The West Spiketacular featured 19 teams from across the state, and the Bulldogs took home third place out of the silver bracket after a 3-5 run in Friday’s pool play. Segura pointed out that all but one of Nikiski’s losses saw the team score at least 20 points, and the biggest loss was a 25-18 game to Dimond.
“We did so well,” she said. “We were one of two (Class) 3A schools there, so I wanted us to use this to get better.”
Carstens finished with six kills for the Bulldogs while patrolling the net, and was backed up by junior libero Kelsey Clark, who had 14 digs and four aces, sophomore setter Kaitlyn Johnson, who provided 15 assists, and junior foreign exchange student Elisa Fardin, who racked up seven aces on a deadly serving game.
Segura said Fardin’s service game has given the Bulldogs an extra boost of power to an already productive attack.
“She’s a phenomenal server,” Segura said. “She was really quiet early on, didn’t show much, but she showed us she has a wicked jump serve.”
In her first game back for the Mariners, junior Brianna Hetrick notched two aces, while Bishop had six digs. Additionally, sophomore middle hitter Marina Carroll had three blocks and three kills for Homer.
Homer head coach Erin Brege thought her team played with an air of hesitation against Nikiski, which left the Mariners scrambling for loose balls on the floor.
“I was looking for more intensity,” Brege said. “I felt like we didn’t have our rhythm.”
Homer pushed Nikiski in the early moments of the first two games, staking out a 4-1 lead in the first and staying close at 9-8 midway through the second, but both games saw the Bulldogs distance themselves with late runs.
After trading service mistakes in the first game, Nikiski finally began to pull away with an 8-1 run that had the Bulldogs leading 13-7 when Homer called timeout. Ashlee Tiner and Fardin both played roles in the run by scoring service points.
Nikiski continued its roll out of the timeout by scoring the next eight points to take a commanding 21-7 lead, and Clark clinched it on a service point.
Jamie Yerkes helped Nikiski out a slim lead in Game 2, and outside hitter Melanie Sexton fueled Nikiski to a 7-1 run that put the home team up 16-9.
Once again, out of the break, Nikiski continued to score, getting points from Carstens and Sexton to wrap up Game 2.
The Bulldogs got out to an 8-3 lead in the third set and used a run of six unanswered points to extend it to 15-4. Kaitlyn Johnson added to the advantage with a string of service points, helping Nikiski to clinch the match for a speedy night.