The Nikiski volleyball team has a rare talent for being able to turn it on when times are tough.
Coach Stacey Segura likes it, and she doesn’t.
The Bulldogs’ ability was on display Tuesday during a 25-14, 25-5 and 25-21 nonconference victory over host Kenai Central at Cliff Massie Court. Nikiski moved to 7-0 overall, while the Kardinals remained winless in nontournament play.
Nikiski was dominant in the first two games, but in the third game Kenai coach Pako Whannell switched up her lineup and the Kardinals came to life.
The game was close throughout, but when Denali Lockwood put down a kill for a 19-17 lead, the home crowd began to come alive in anticipation of a fourth game.
“I really don’t like coming from behind, but everybody is really disciplined about what they need to do to score when we get down,” Segura said. “I just wish they could play every point like that.”
A missed serve by Kenai made the score 19-18, then Elisa Fardin, who finished with three aces and eight digs, served out four points for a 22-19 lead. The closet Kenai would get the rest of the way is two points.
Segura said it’s understandable that her team has lapses due to things like noise in the gym and fatigue after a long day of school. So in the end, she appreciated the ability to turn it on and off.
“It’s good, because there will be times we’re going to get behind,” she said.
The first two games were not one of those times.
“I really didn’t need to say anything,” Segura said. “They were getting it to the right spot, setting up the hitters and hitting really well. Our defense was on and communicating.”
Nikiski made a quick adjustment to the loss of Melanie Sexton, who injured an ankle in practice Monday. Rylee Jackson moved to outside hitter, where she played last year, and collected eight kills.
In the first game, the Bulldogs opened up a 9-6 lead on three serves from Emma Wik, who had three aces and eight assists. Nikiski then took total control of the game when Kelsey Clark, who had four aces and eight digs, served out five straight points for a 21-11 lead.
Return of serve would continue to be a problem in the second game for the Kardinals. Kaitlyn Johnson, who had five aces, 12 assists and eight digs, served the Bulldogs to a 7-0 lead. The Clark stepped up for 10 more and an 18-2 advantage.
“She just served and served,” Whannell said of Clark. “The girls could not pass her. The second game was terrible. Nobody was doing anything.”
So the coach made a big change.
“In the third game, I switched everybody up,” she said. “People were playing where they are not used to playing. It gave us a new energy and let us play much better.”
For instance, backup setter Kailey Hamilton entered and setter Maddie Galloway moved to outside hitter, where she had two kills. Libero Hayley Maw, who had 14 digs, had been solid the whole match, but Whannell said she started throwing her body around the court and infused the team with energy.
The coach said her team is young and inexperienced, and it’s important to remember this is only midseason.
“This team is so open to learning,” Whannell said. “That’s what I love about coaching these kids. They’re learning something every time they play.”
Mayzie Potton had eight kills for Kenai, while Lockwood and Nikki Prior had three kills. Abby Every also added two kills while displaying what Whannell said is a young fearlessness.
For Nikiski, Bethany Carstens continued to look smooth in a return from a knee injury with seven kills. Ashlee Tiner also snapped out of what Segura called a bit of a slump with five kills.