The Nikiski volleyball team advanced to the final four of the Class 3A state volleyball tournament with a pair of Friday victories at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
The Bulldogs started the day with a 19-25, 25-15, 25-21 and 25-21 victory over Barrow.
Nikiski, which took third at the Southcentral Conference tournament last weekend, then took out Southcentral champ Homer by a 25-14, 25-18, 25-27, 17-25 and 15-6 count. The Bulldogs and Mariners had split during the regular season.
Saturday, the Bulldogs face a long climb to a state championship. Nikiski would have to win four straight matches, starting with an 8 a.m. contest against Grace Christian.
Nikiski has not had success against the Grizzlies this season — losing twice in the regular season, once in the Southcentral Conference tournament and once in the Dimond-Service tournament.
However, Homer just beat Grace at the Southcentral Conference tournament, giving the Bulldogs confidence they can do the same.
“If Homer can do it, so can we,” Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said. “We almost did it at regions. It was just a matter of an attitude change at regions.
“The girls are getting a grasp of that. I’m excited to see if we can do it in the morning.”
At the Southcentral tourney, Nikiski beat Grace in the first game. In the second game, Segura said her squad played really well, but lost and never recovered.
But Segura said that the Homer match shows her squad has grown. After losing the third game 27-25 and then the fourth game, Nikiski was able to recover in the fifth.
“I was disappointed in how we played the fourth game, and it came down to the fact of whether we could turn it around,” Segura said. “I knew we could do it.
“It was a matter of whether we were going to get excited about winning every single point and make sure we weren’t making mistakes.”
Senior Laura Hufford got player of the match, collecting 17 digs. Fellow senior Rachel Thompson had six kills, 29 assists and 17 digs.
Also for Nikiski, Brianna Vollertson had four aces, seven kills and 10 digs; Brittany Perry had four aces; Ayla Pitt had nine kills and three blocks; Lauren O’Brien had seven kills; Verity Seltman had a block; and Zykiah Cooney had 10 digs.
“It was such a blur,” Segura said. “It was so stressful for me. But it was nice to send our region champions home.”
Against Barrow, Nikiski fell into a 7-0 hole in the first game and was able to recover from there.
“I think we just kind of overlooked Barrow that first game,” Segura said. “We saw them during the Shayna Pritchard tournament and we knew we competed well with them.”
Thompson was player of the match with 32 assists and 15 digs.
Also for the Bulldogs, Vollertson had five aces and five kills; Cooney had two aces and 10 digs; Pitt had 11 kills and two blocks; Melanie Sexton had seven kills; O’Brien had five kills; Vollertson had five kills; and Hufford had 16 digs.