The Nikiski volleyball team came to the Class 3A state championship tournament with a plan.
Phase one of that plan was completed Thursday night at the Alaska Airlines Center when the Bulldogs knocked off the defending state champs Valdez with a 3-1 quarterfinal victory.
Nikiski won with scores of 22-25, 25-17, 25-22 and 25-13, advancing the Bulldogs to Friday’s semifinal contest against Grace Christian at 5:15 p.m. with a chance to play in Saturday’s final. Nikiski defeated Grace in five sets last week for the region crown.
“It’s awesome, the girls have been talking about having to see Valdez all week,” said Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura. “We showed up Monday in practice and when they saw the bracket, we knew we were in a tougher bracket.”
Nikiski began the day with a 3-0 sweep of Barrow before setting their sights on the Buccaneers.
In other games, Homer faltered in its first state tournament appearance in three years with a 3-1 loss to Valdez and will play Barrow at 11:45 a.m. today in a loser-out game. The Bucs win advanced them to the late game with Nikiski.
Nikiski junior Kaycee Bostic led a sharp offensive attack against Valdez, scoring a game-high 19 kills and putting up a spectacular 12 blocks on Valdez’s front line.
“It feels great,” Bostic exclaimed. “Working as a team is everything in how we win. As long as we keep that up with our attitudes up, we’ll win.”
Bulldogs senior Bethany Carstens complemented Bostic’s attack with 20 kills of her own, along with four blocks.
Senior Emma Wik also provided 22 assists, junior Kaitlyn Johnson had 23 assists to go with 16 digs and senior libero Kelsey Clark notched 33 digs.
Bostic was not part of the Nikiski varsity team that two years ago made it to the state final, but several of her senior teammates were. Bostic said competing with a strong team like this year’s group motivated her to push against the stout Bucs defense.
“It just boosts our confidence and we know we can do really good,” she said. “This year I feel like I have a lot more to give to the team, and make it stronger as a whole.”
Early on, however, the Bulldogs found themselves down a set after losing out in a late battle with the Bucs. Tied at 21 apiece, Valdez buckled down and won four of the last five points to stake out a 1-0 match advantage.
But against the experienced Bulldogs, Segura said she knew the match was far from over.
“I just made sure to keep them grounded and focused,” Segura said. “When we lost that first set, we didn’t lose our composure, they worked so well together.”
A 9-1 run by Nikiski spurred the Bulldogs on midway through the second set as they took a 21-14 lead thanks to some timely blocks by Bostic, and a ball from Savannah Ley glanced off a Valdez defender to secure the set win, tying the match at 1-all.
Deadly serving by Druesedow to begin the third set helped Nikiski out to a 7-3 lead early, but Valdez rallied back to tie it at 12 with tough serving of their own from Carlee Fleming. Fleming proved to be a thorn in Nikiski’s side all night with nearly mistake-free hitting.
Valdez led 20-19 when Segura called timeout. Coming out of the break, Bostic laid down a point on a big hit to tie it up and Wik gave Nikiski the lead with a point. The Bulldogs were able to finish strong with a stuff block and a kill by Bethany Carstens to take a 2-1 match lead.
Like the previous game, Nikiski opened the fourth set strong with a 9-4 lead, then hunkered down to keep it going. Nikiski closed out spectacularly with a 12-2 flourish to punch its ticket to the semis.
Additionally for Nikiski, Lillian Carstens had five kills and Angela Druesedow notched 15 digs.
Nikiski 3, Barrow 0
The Bulldogs opened their state tournament with a convincing three-set sweep over the defending state runner-up Whalers, winning with scores of 25-16, 25-20 and 25-18.
Bethany Carstens and Kaycee Bostic fueled the Nikiski offense with a powerful attack, both players striking for nine kills and five blocks each. Kaitlyn Johnson helped set it up with 11 assists to go with four kills, and Emma Wik added 15 assists as well. Nikiski also got 19 digs from Kelsey Clark, 16 digs from America Jeffreys and two aces from Angela Druesedow.
The Bulldogs struggled to take command of both the first two sets, playing even with Barrow each time until strong pushes in the late minutes helped Nikiski pull out a 2-0 match lead.
In set one, Bethany Carstens came in midway through the set to provide a scoring punch, knocking out three consecutive Nikiski points to put the Bulldogs up 19-15. The showing by Carstens helped motivate Nikiski to five straight points and a 23-15 lead. Clark put away the set with a service point.
Barrow rocketed out to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but a five-point run helped get Nikiski back into it and with a 9-7 edge. With the score tied 14-all, Nikiski found its footing with 7-2 run kickstarted by a Barrow serve into the netting, followed by a service point by Druesedow and a stuff block by Carstens. Bostic added to the run with a pair of kill points, then finished the set with a kill.
Seven unanswered points by Nikiski helped give the Bulldogs a 10-5 lead in the third set, and they later pushed it to 20-13. Balls called out helped prop the Whalers back up with five straight points, but Bethany Carstens made it easy for Nikiski with consecutive kill points to push the Bulldogs to the set win and match sweep.
Valdez 3, Homer 1
The defending 3A state champion Buccaneers sent the Mariners to the loser-out bracket Thursday afternoon with scores of 25-10, 14-25, 28-26 and 25-23.
Middle hitter Marina Carroll, Tonda Smude and Karmyn Gallios notched 11 kills each to lead the offense, while Carroll kicked in three blocks and 10 digs, Smude added two blocks and four digs, and Gallios recorded 14 digs with two aces.
Additionally for Homer, setter Brianna Hetrick provided 32 assists to go with eight kills and 15 digs, outside hitter Kelli Bishop notched four kills and 14 digs, Kitri Classen had five digs, Laura Inama had eight digs and one block, and Sela Weisser recorded three digs.
Homer struggled to find its footing out of the gate, going down 8-1 in quick order to Valdez in the opening set as the Buccaneers did not allow more than two consecutive points by Homer over the entire set.
It was a different story for the Mariners in the second set as Homer grabbed a 12-6 lead thanks to dominant front line play by Carroll and Smude, who contributed a handful of kill points.
Valdez had the lead cut to 16-12 before Homer ripped off six straight points for a commanding 22-12 advantage. Inama eventually capped the set win with a service point to tie the match up.
The fireworks in the third set began when Valdez took set point at 24-19 on an out call by Homer. Smude got the rally going with a kill point, then Carroll and Hetrick teamed up for a stuff block to keep it going, and Carroll pumped in two scoring hits en route to a 6-0 run.
The Mariners held set point at 25-24, but a service ball by Smude that sailed out of bounds gave the ball back to Valdez, which scored twice to take set point 26-25.
A serve out of bounds by Valdez’s Jillian Fleming tied it up, but the Bucs took it back with a kill by Sydney Johnson and a service point by Kendall Wesenberg to grab a 2-1 match lead. In the elimination game four, Homer found itself leading 22-21, but a pair of called out balls led to three straight Bucs points and Valdez held match point at 24-23. Gallios notched a kill to keep the Mariners alive for one point, but a block by Valdez secured the match victory for the Bucs.