The host Nikiski volleyball team defeated Soldotna 25-22, 13-25, 17-25, 29-27 and 16-14 on Thursday night in nonconference play.
The Bulldogs are now 1-0 in nontournament play, while the Stars are 1-2 in nontournament play.
The early season match was a dream for Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura and Soldotna coach Luke Baumer.
Since SoHi is a Class 4A school and Nikiski is a Class 3A school, the game doesn’t count for conference play. At the same time, both coaches saw their teams put to the tight, five-set test in front of raucous Nikiski homecoming crowd.
“It was a really fun match,” Baumer said. “Especially when it’s not in the conference, it teaches these girls to grind through five-set matches like that and keep grinding.
“Kudos to the crowd, too, because that was super intense. There was a lot of loud screaming throughout the entire match.”
The Bulldogs won the first game while both teams were settling in, but then SoHi took control of the match in Games 2 and 3 with a strong serve.
“I warned the girls going in that SoHi is always a tough serving team,” Segura said. “I know that Luke really works on that a lot, because anytime you can get a team out of system, and shut down their offense, that’s a huge opportunity.”
In the fourth and fifth games, Nikiski started passing SoHi’s serve and the games tightened.
“You’ve got to give credit to Nikiski,” Baumer said. “They adjusted to it and our serve didn’t really go downhill.”
Both coaches were happy with the way their teams were playing defense, so that led to a lot of long, loud, crucial points.
“Our big thing in 4 and 5 was to go back to the basics and not try to do anything crazy because the crowd was too loud or it was a high pressure situation,” Segura said. “In serve-receive, we need to run an attack, and to keep our heads and stay focused.”
Soldotna actually had a match point in Game 4 at 24-23, but Maggie Grenier, who had 15 assists, had a tip kill to preserve the match.
Nikiski freshman Mandee Roofe, who had 10 blocks, then swooped in from out of nowhere for a stuff block and a 25-24 score.
“I’ve seen her before, and my eyes didn’t pop to her that much,” Baumer said of Roofe. “Tonight, it was definitely apparent that we definitely should have been looking at her a little bit longer because she was definitely somebody who was a difference maker.”
The Bulldogs wouldn’t put away Game 4 until their fourth game point on a hitting error by Soldotna.
The fifth game featured seven ties and three lead changes. Alexa Iyatunguk, who had nine kills and three aces, gave Nikiski a game point at 15-14. Roofe then finished it off with a stuff block.
“Honestly, I’ve never had a middle read as well as she reads,” Segura said of Roofe. “She wants to block. She lives for it.”
Segura also said Kailey Stynsberg did a good job leading the defense with 26 digs, while Abby White had 16 digs, Evelyn Reichert had 17 digs and three aces, and Avery Ellis had 14 digs and nine assists. Ashlynne Playle had eight kills and six blocks.
Baumer said setter Sarah Brown, playing for the injured Nicole Dickinson, continued to impress with 36 assists. The coach also said libero Kiara Forkner was everywhere with 26 digs and four aces.