Playing a match just two days before the conference tournament is extremely rare, but both Seward and Nikiski were glad to get the opportunity Wednesday at Nikiski High School.
The Seahawks won 13-25, 25-14, 23-25, 25-17 and 15-10 to move to 5-4 in the Southcentral Conference and 6-5 overall. The Bulldogs fall to 1-7 in the league and 1-10 overall.
The match was originally scheduled for Oct. 27, but Nikiski coach Stacey Segura said somebody in the program had a positive COVID-19 test, meaning the program got shut down right after the Dimond-Service Tournament on Oct. 22 and 23.
Seward agreed to play the match as soon as the Nikiski program was able to play in order to give the Bulldogs a senior night honoring Mckinlee Jeffreys, Rylee Ellis, Camry Ellis, Ariel VanZandt, Jaycee Tauriainen and manager Sammy Napoka.
Segura had a quick practice after school Wednesday in order to try and get her squad back in the swing of things.
“I wanted to practice and get the rhythm back and work on the rotation a little bit, and then obviously we played Seward,” Segura said. “I was really happy with the way we played tonight, considering that we were out and everybody else was still practicing.”
Seward coach Jodi Kurtz also was very happy to get a match. In a practice Tuesday night, Seahawks senior outside hitter Hannah Schilling went down with an ankle injury. Schilling was not able to play Wednesday night.
Kurtz and the team are holding out hope Schilling will be ready by Friday, but the coach was grateful to have the Wednesday match in case Schilling can’t make it back.
“They had to figure out for themselves as a team how to play without her,” Kurtz said. “It was nice to be able to do that tonight and not have to do that on Friday.”
As might be expected from two teams having experienced so much disruption, there were big swings early, with Nikiski cruising in the first game and Seward rolling to a Game 2 victory.
As Game 3 went on, both teams settled in and the action went more back and forth. Nikiski held on for the 25-23 victory on a game-clinching block by VanZandt, who had eight blocks and six kills in the match.
In Game 4, Seward looked more and more comfortable with the new lineup, winning 25-17. Gaia Casagrande, who is normally a middle blocker, starting booming kills from Schilling’s outside hitter spot.
“She doesn’t even practice hitting over there,” Kurtz said of Casagrande. “For her to just go over there and play outside like she did is a great job.”
The coach added that Teyla Ramsey normally swings up from junior varsity, but did a great job taking over at Casagrande’s middle hitter slot. Kurtz also said Jordan Hartman did well as a JV swinger.
“We got a rotation going where all my girls got to play,” Kurtz said.
Seward jumped to a 6-2 lead in Game 5 and was able to hold on for the victory. Segura said her team made a few costly mistakes due to rust.
“I’m actually glad this went to five games, because the more playing time, the better,” Segura said. “Hopefully, that was enough to get us where we need to be for this weekend.”
Ashlynne Playle had 12 kills for the Bulldogs, while Tauriainen had 15 digs and 15 assists, Rylee Ellis had six kills, Savanna Stock had six assists and three aces, Maggie Grenier had six assists and Jeffreys had 18 digs.
Both teams now feel better going into the conference tournament Friday.
“We really want to go to state,” Kurtz said. “The girls have working hard for that honor for a long time.”
The Bulldogs have a string of four straight state appearances going.