Nikiski’s Rylee Jackson (10) attempts to corral a loose ball Thursday night against Grace Christian at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Rylee Jackson (10) attempts to corral a loose ball Thursday night against Grace Christian at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski volleyball escapes with 5-set win over Grace

Thanks to the experience gained from a deep state run last fall, the Nikiski volleyball team walked off their home court Thursday night with a 3-2 match win over Southcentral Conference opponent Grace Christian.

The Bulldogs opened up a 2-0 match lead with game scores of 26-24 and 25-13, then watched as the Grizzlies stormed back to force a fifth set with scores of 28-26 and 25-23.

Nikiski won the winner-take-all set 15-10.

“They were talking and hustling really well,” said senior outside hitter Melanie Sexton. “They did a great job on defense.”

The Bulldogs are 1-0 in nontournament play this year, while Grace is 1-1. Nikiski opened their season winning the Shayna Pritchard Memorial tournament at home two weeks ago.

Thursday night’s close call is not the first for this crew of Nikiski players. During last year’s region title run, the Bulldogs sweated out a five-set semifinal victory over Seward, then pulled out another five-set win over Grace to win the Southcentral crown.

Back for another go this season, the Bulldogs made use of that experience to hold off a hungry Grace squad full of juniors and seniors.

“The girls that were in the championship game last year pretty much picked up where they left off,” said Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura.

In the potential clinching Game 3, Nikiski wasted two match-point opportunities before Grace won it.

In Game 4, Nikiski led 21-18 before Grace came on strong to win it on a 7-2 run.

“We’re a comeback team,” said Grace coach Nicole Markel. “The girls have a lot of grit.”

Segura said junior libero Kelsey Clark, who came up with countless digs to keep the Bulldogs in the game, helped hold her teammates together when they needed it most.

“Kelsey is always a constant, steady person on the court,” Segura said. “I’ve never seen that kid show any type of emotion toward the type of game we’re playing. If we’re in a stressful situation, she’s always steady.”

Clark finished with over a dozen digs and three aces.

“I just know if they’re going to swing and Kelsey Clark is in the back row, I don’t even really worry about her,” Segura added.

On the offensive front, Sexton had 10 kills and four aces, senior Jamie Yerkes notched 10 kills, senior Ashlee Tiner had six kills and three blocks, and senior Rylee Jackson had two blocks.

Sophomore setter Kaitlyn Johnson finished with 15 assists and five aces, junior Elisa Fardin had three aces and junior Emma Wik provided 13 assists and three aces.

Segura said losing Game 3 after being so close to ending the night put the Bulldogs in an uncomfortable spot.

“I think the way we lost that third game, it was a huge disappointment,” Segura said. “I set a goal in the locker room to win three games, and the way we lost that game was really a letdown for them. It’s like they couldn’t believe it happened.”

Sexton said Grace’s playmaking abilities on defense helped keep the Grizzlies in the game, which made life tough for her expected kill shots.

“We just needed that last point, and we couldn’t get in that situation,” Sexton said.

Grace junior outside hitter Brianna Masters led the Grizzlies attack with 11 kills, while senior middle Allison Hagen had eight kills and Jordyn Liedike and Colleen Gamez both finished with six kills.

Earlier in the night, the Grizzlies held set point in game 1 at 24-22, but Nikiski answered with four straight points to win it 26-24 on an Ashlee Tiner hit that was set up well by Johnson.

In Game 2, Nikiski got off to a 7-0 start and didn’t look back en route to a 25-13 win, thanks to a strong service game by Fardin.

But the third game of the night proved difficult to finish for the home team, as Nikiski opened up a 5-0 lead, then expanded it to 19-15 before Grace began to take control with bodies flying around on defense.

The Bulldogs reached match point at 24-19, but Grace reeled off six straight points as Nikiski fell victim to errors and mistakes. The Bulldogs battled back to gain match point again at 26-25, but Grace finished the job with a pair of service points by senior setter Alyssa Rogers, who was a thorn in Nikiski’s side all night.

Nikiski streaked out to a 15-8 lead in Game 4, but the Grizzlies responded with a 13-6 run to tie it at 21-all, and Grace finished it on a Nikiski service error, forcing a fifth set.

In Game 5, Sexton and Clark came through with big plays to help Nikiski finally end it. The Bulldogs held leads of 6-3 and 13-8 that forced Grace to call timeout, and a smash into the netting by Grace clinched the match for the Bulldogs.

Soldotna 3, Palmer 1

The host Stars notched a Northern Lights Conference victory over the Moose on Thursday.

SoHi moved to 1-0 in the league and 1-1 overall, while Palmer dropped to 1-1 in the league and 1-2 overall.

“I told my kids it was a very sweet win for them,” SoHi coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. “I have three seniors. We are very young.

“The kids really controlled the ball well today so we could do something.”

Kupferschmid said middle hitters Aliann Schmidt and Bailey Leach stood out. Schmidt had 13 kills and four solo blocks, while Leach had six kills, 16 service points and two blocks.

The SoHi coach also liked the smart, all-around game of Shay Zener. Zener had eight kills, 18 digs and 10 service points.

Also for SoHi, Ella Stenga had five kills and 16 digs, Kodi McGillivray had a kill and 12 service points, Patricia Catacutan had 17 digs, Holleigh Jaime had seven digs and Kalyn McGillivray had eight digs.

Kupferschmid said Cally Christensen did a great job directing the attack, with 29 set assists and 10 service points.

Soldotna hosts NLC opponents Colony today at 6 p.m. and Wasilla on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

Houston 3, Homer 2

The visiting Hawks notched a 25-20, 25-17, 22-25, 23-25 and 15-8 victory over the Mariners in Southcentral Conference play.

Raisa Basargin had 25 digs for the Mariners, while Karmyn Gallios had 10 kills, Kelli Bishop had eight kills and Kelsea Scott had four aces.

Homer hosts Redington today at 6:30 p.m. and Grace Christian on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Colony 3, Kenai Central 0

The visiting Knights notched a 25-14, 25-13 and 25-7 Northern Lights Conference victory over the Kardinals on Thursday.

Kenai hosts Wasilla today at 6 p.m.

Seward 3, Redington 0

The host Seahawks controlled a Southcentral Conference match against the Huskies on Thursday.

Seward hosts Grace today at 5 p.m. and Houston on Saturday at noon.

Nikiski’s Jamie Yerkes (9) winds up for a hit against Grace Christian, Thursday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Jamie Yerkes (9) winds up for a hit against Grace Christian, Thursday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kaitlyn Johnson (8) eyes the ball while Ashlee Tyner sets up behind her Thursday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Kaitlyn Johnson (8) eyes the ball while Ashlee Tyner sets up behind her Thursday night at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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