The Nikiski volleyball team topped Grace Christian in a five-set thriller to win the Southcentral Conference volleyball tournament Saturday at Anchorage Christian Schools.
The scores were 25-20, 26-28, 25-22, 22-25 and 15-13. The final game was tied at 13 before Nikiski took the final two points.
This was the third straight year the Bulldogs and Grizzlies faced off for the title. Nikiski won in 2016, while Grace won last year. When Nikiski won in 2016, it fueled the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish at state. Last season after losing the title game, Nikiski went two-and-out at state.
This year, Nikiski hit a three-game losing streak near the end of the season, but won two straight to finish the regular season.
“We’re definitely peaking at the right time,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said. “It was awesome to see the girls really kept their cool when we went through that losing streak.
“They focused in practice on what needed to be fixed and that helped with what happened tonight.”
The Bulldogs have accumulated a lot of experience in important five-setters over the course of the last few years at it showed Saturday.
“It’s calming to know we have so much experience at that kind of a pressure situation,” Segura said. “Of course, I’d like it go go four and breathe a bit easier, but this group is very competitive and they don’t like to lose.”
Nikiski and Grace earn the only two automatic state berths available at the Southcentral Conference tournament. With the berth in hand entering the title game, Segura told her team to have fun and work hard. The Bulldogs did exactly that.
Bethany Carstens had 18 kills and five blocks for Nikiski, while Kaitlyn Johnson had 13 kills, six aces and 18 assists, Emma Wik had nine kills, three aces, 27 digs and 22 assists; Kaycee Bostic had 10 blocks; and Kelsey Clark had 36 digs.
Clark also was named co-MVP of the conference.
“It’s usually a hitter or a setter,” Segura said. “I pushed for her hard. She doesn’t get a lot of recognition but she works her butt off and she’s carried our defense for the past three years.”
Homer prevailed in the third-place bracket Saturday by defeating Kenai 25-15, 25-17 and 25-13. The third-place finish gives the Mariners a chance of earning the lone at-large berth to the state tournament.
The Mariners had moved into the third-place game with a 25-20, 25-17, 25-27, 18-25 and 15-9 victory over Seward. Kenai earned the right to play for third place by bouncing host ACS 25-23, 15-25, 22-25 and 21-25.
Nikiski punched its ticket to state for a third year in a row Friday with a pair of three-set sweeps over Redington and Anchorage Christian to set up the title game with Grace.
“It’s about staying positive and not getting outworked,” Segura said about the title matchup with the Grizzlies. “Grace never gives up, so it’s important to finish every point. We’ve got to have a great serve-recieve, they have good servers.”
Nikiski started the day Friday with a 3-0 win over Redington with scores of 25-11, 25-10 and 25-9.
Kaycee Bostic and Bethany Carstens led the offensive attack with eight kills and seven kills, respectively. Kaitlyn Johnson and Lillian Carstens contributed three kills each, and Johnson added 10 assists. Emma Wik also helped with setting up the offense with 10 assists.
Angela Druesedow served well with five aces, while Kelsey Clark held the defense together with 13 digs.
Later in the day, the Bulldogs beat ACS with scores of 25-18, 25-22 and 25-20, a team that Segura called much improved.
“We didn’t play our best game against ACS,” she said. “We were kind of going through this phase, the girls were focusing on their mistakes, rather than what they’re doing good. I have to remind them they’re No. 1 in the region for a reason.
“It’s a game of mistakes, it’s just part of the game, and you can’t be perfect all the time.”
ACS had beaten Seward 25-18, 25-21, 23-25 and 26-24 earlier in the day in the first round of matches. Seward came back Friday to oust Redington 25-12, 26-24 and 25-16 and set up a consolation match with Homer.
Against the Lions, Johnson pulled together an impressive match for Nikiski with eight kills, two blocks, six aces, 10 digs and 10 assists, while Bethany Carstens had 11 kills and five blocks.
Wik provided 21 assists to go with two blocks, while Bostic had five kills and Lillian Carstens had seven. Clark notched 15 digs on defense.
The Homer Mariners prevailed 25-11, 25-12 and 25-12 in the first round over Houston, but fell to Grace 19-25, 25-16, 25-15 and 25-21 in the other tournament semifinal.
Kenai split its two tournament matches Friday, starting with a three-set loss to Grace Christian with scores of 25-22, 25-12 and 25-15, eliminating the Kardinals from an automatic state berth.
Later on Friday, the Kardinals beat Houston 25-11, 25-17 and 25-20.
“It’s very important (to win),” said Kenai head coach Tracie Beck. “(Grace) came ready to play, but we’re playing our best ball. That’s what you hope as a coach, to see your team peaking at this time of year.”
Against the Grizzlies, Jenna Streiff had a defensive day with 25 digs, while teammate Bethany Morris had six kills, Lexi Reis notched four kills, and Kaylee Lauritsen scored three aces.
Against Houston, Morris led the offensive attack with 10 kills, while Abby Every kicked in nine. Reis notched nine ace, Jayden Streiff had three aces to go with 17 digs, and Kailey Hamilton provided 14 assists and Lauritsen had 12 assists.
In the Saturday match against ACS, Every had three aces, Jaiden Streiff had three aces, Morris had 16 kills, Every had eight kills, Jaiden Streiff had 26 digs and Jenna Streiff had 41 digs. Against Homer, Reis had three aces and six kills, Morris had two aces and six kills, Every had five kills, Jenna Streiff had 18 digs and Jaiden Streiff had 12 digs.
Kenai Central did not have any seniors and the strong finish sets the Kards up nicely for next season.
“They just worked hard and continued to improve all year long,” Beck said. “They played some of their best ball at the tournament. I’m super proud of the effort. It was an excellent way to finish.”
Co-MVPs — Kelsey Clark, Nikiski; Brianna Masters, Grace.
Coach of the Year — Kelsey Marre, Houston.
First team — Bethany Carstens, Nikiski; Audrey Giddings, Houston; Mary Kate Parks, ACS; Bethany Morris, Kenai; Marina Carroll, Homer; Jordan Liedike, Grace; Ashley Jackson, Seward; Brianna Hetrick, Homer; Kaitlyn Johnson, Nikiski; Coral Petrosius, Seward.
Second team — Lexi Reis, Kenai; Rebekah Ames, ACS; Grace Salima, Grace; Kira Keller, ACS; Varvara Kuzmin, Redington; Lexi Rau, Houston; Riley VonBorstel, Seward; Kelli Bishop, Homer; Kendall White, Grace; Emma Wik, Nikiski; Megan Cowell, Grace.
Sportsmanship Award — Rebekah Ames, ACS; Megan Cowell, Grace; Kelsea Scott, Homer; Lexi Rau, Houston; Chelsea Plagge, Kenai; America Jeffreys, Nikiski; Varvara Kuzmin, Redington; Hannah Schmilling, Seward.