The Nikiski volleyball team defeated Soldotna on Thursday. The nonconference match, held at Soldotna High School, ended 3-1.
Nikiski head coach Stacey Segura said this win has been a long time coming.
“We’re working hard and staying positive, and the wins just haven’t been going our way,” she said. “I’m just relieved that it’s paying off for them.”
In the first set, SoHi appeared dominant. Early points were back and forth, but SoHi began to pull away.
“We started off so high,” Soldotna head coach Luke Baumer said. “The team was clicking.”
The Bulldogs called a timeout as the Stars led 12-4.
Nikiski managed to begin to answer SoHi, but the first set finished at 25-17 in favor of SoHi.
The second set was closer, initially tied at 8, then with the Stars holding 15-13 21-19 leads.
Nikiski managed to pull ahead and claim the set 26-24, bringing the match to 1-1.
That’s when Baumer said the Stars lost the match.
“We came out super strong,” Baumer said. “Energy was great and everything was going our way. The tough part in volleyball is as soon as that momentum shifts, then it’s one of those moments where it’s like, as a team, can you come out of this and can you dig yourself out?”
Baumer said Nikiski is the first team to bring that challenge this season.
“They played amazing,” he said.
Segura said her team practiced this week to respond to the Stars, who are a “great serving team.”
“We have a lot of new girls on varsity this year and I don’t think they were really prepared for what that was gonna look like,” Segura said.
Once the team managed to figure out a response to the Stars’ serves, they were able to respond.
“We grew so much today as a team, especially coming out of that first game,” Segura said. “They could have easily just given up and they didn’t.”
Baumer said some of his strong performers in this match were Nicole Dickinson and Katelyn Morrison.
“They connected really well tonight and they did a great job keeping us in those sets,” he said.
Morrison led the Stars with 18 kills. Sadie Lane had 9, and also led in digs. Claire Henry led with six aces. Dickinson had 27 assists.
In the third set, Nikiski kept its momentum going, claiming an early lead.
“They were scrappy,” Baumer said. “You’d swing a ball at them and they would somehow get that ball back up and over the net.”
The Stars began to surge, nearly tying up the game, but Nikiski managed to finish it out first once again, closing the third set at 26-24 again and rising to 2-1.
Baumer said Nikiski never stopped sending balls back, and the long rallies really wore out his team.
“The tension and the pressure starts to build,” he said.
In what was already an intense match, Baumer said that his team put pressure on themselves. Baumer said they need to “worry less about the scoreboard and more about the controllables.”
The Stars seemed poised to make a comeback in the fourth, leading early and for much of the set. Nikiski managed to tie things up at 19, then claimed and held the lead before finishing things out 25-22, taking the match 3-1.
Segura said some of her strong performers during the match were Ashlynne Playle and Avery White, who each had seven kills. White also had 5 aces. Kailey Stynsberg had 21 digs, Maggie Grenier had nine assists, while Savanna Stock had seven.
The Nikiski Bulldogs have another match this weekend, playing the Homer Mariners on Saturday.
Segura said, “My goal is to keep the team humble. This isn’t our end game by any means.”
Her sights are set firmly on regions and state.
“This is a big win for validation,” she said. “Saturday will be even more important.”
SoHi also has a big weekend ahead of them, with two matches against Wasilla.
“It’s good to have this kind of stuff in the beginning of the season,” Baumer said. “It gives the girls an understanding of where we need to improve … what we can fix in the next match.”
Baumer said that after the game against Nikiski, everyone was in agreement that they need to work on communication.
“Everybody was talking but nobody was listening,” he said.
“So I think tomorrow we go into Wasilla and we pick one thing to focus on,” Baumer said. “How can we walk out of this gym saying that we won this match regardless of what the score says?”