Two volleyball rivals. Intense defense. An incredibly emotional victory for one side.
What month is it, anyway?
Nikiski defeated Seward 16-25, 25-19 and 15-13 to win the 10th annual Shayna Pritchard Memorial Volleyball Tournament on Saturday in Nikiski.
This is the first time the Bulldogs have won the tournament in memory of Pritchard, a former basketball and volleyball player at Nikiski who was killed in a car accident in Colorado in June 2007.
“I feel like we’ve been cursed,” said Nikiski coach Stacey Segura, who took the tourney in her sixth try.
The win was particularly emotional for Segura because she also played basketball and volleyball for the Bulldogs. Pritchard was a year younger than Segura.
“It’s kind of an emotional thing for us,” Segura said. “A lot of the girls don’t know who she is, but it’s important for us that did know to make sure this stays important.”
Seward had lost to Nikiski in five games in the semis of the Southcentral Conference tournament last season, and with both teams returning a bunch of starters, the game quickly took on an intensity unusual for an early season tourney.
“They definitely wanted a piece of Nikiski,” Segura said. “The girls knew that coming in and that makes it a hard situation to be in.
“They buckled down and fought for it. Seward is definitely better than last year.”
Jodi Kurtz is in her first season as head coach at Seward, but the Seahawks haven’t missed a beat.
“We know they’ll be one of our toughest competitors and it’s always been like that,” Kurtz said of Nikiski. “This team has worked so hard and come a long way.”
Using a stifling defense, Seward won the first game.
“We have a great defense,” Kurtz said. “They’re awesome at coverage and getting the ball to the setter where it needs to be.”
But Nikiski adjusted its attack in the second game.
“We really focused on being smart hitters instead of just smashing the ball over,” Segura said.
The coach added that the Bulldogs defense, led by Kelsey Clark, kept Nikiski in the match when the hitters were not clicking.
“Kelsey Clark worked her butt off,” Segura said. “The defense was an amazing asset to the team today.”
That set up a dramatic game to 15 to decide the tournament. Seward’s Allie Toloff ripped off five straight service points to give the Seahawks a 13-10 lead. Coral Petrosius had kills on two of those points.
But a kill by Nikiski’s Ashlee Tiner got the ball to Italian foreign exchange student Elisa Fardin, and her nasty jump serve was enough to get the Bulldogs to a 15-13 win.
Fardin had missed three serves earlier in the match, when she was being told a specific area to target her serve. Segura decided Fardin needed to serve without targeting a specific area and it worked like a charm.
Kaitlyn Johnson had 22 assists, 12 digs, eight kills and an ace in the final to wrap up an MVP performance.
“She seems to have volleyball on her mind all the time,” Segura said. “When she’s out there, I know she’s playing the best she possibly can.”
Nikiski’s Melanie Sexton also made the all-tournament team and had 20 digs and seven kills in the final.
Also for Nikiski, Clark had 25 digs, Fardin had 12 digs, Ashlee Tiner had four kills, Emma Wik had seven assists, and Rylee Jackson had five kills and three blocks.
Maille Moriarity, Riley Von Borstel and Ashley Jackson were all-tournament for the Seahawks.
The tournament started Friday with pool play that determined Saturday’s bracket. In the bracket’s first round, Colony JV topped Kenai and South JV topped Homer. Kenai would go on to top Homer for fifth place, with Marina Carroll getting all-tournament for the Mariners.
In the semis, Nikiski beat Colony and Seward beat South. South would take third place.
The Wolverines had Megan Petersen, Sarah Robinson and Morghan Annesi make all-tournament, while Madi Wakaliuk and Marett Mollnow earned the honor for the Knights.
Soldotna takes 11th at Chugiak Invitational
The Soldotna volleyball squad finished 11th at the Chugiak Invitational, with Aliann Schmidt earning all-tournament honors. After finishing 1-8 in Pool B, Soldotna was placed in the bronze bracket. There, the Stars lost to Service before topping Wasilla for third in the bracket.