No matter the final result of Thursday’s nonconference match between the Soldotna and Kenai Central volleyball programs, all parties were sure to win.
That’s because the Stars were hosting their annual Pink Out volleyball match to raise money for the Central Peninsula Hospital Foundation. The SoHi gym and adjacent commons area was decked in pink banners, signs and encouraging messages for breast cancer survivors.
“This year we’ve raised a lot of money for the hospital,” said senior Aliann Schmidt. “This is more important than senior night.”
The Stars were also celebrating senior night, and ultimately defeated crosstown rival Kenai 3-1 with scores of 25-15, 25-19, 18-25 and 25-14. SoHi lifted its season record to 14-4 overall, while Kenai dropped to 6-5.
The night began with pomp, as all breast cancer survivors and those currently affected with the disease were recognized. Fans were able to donate money to the hospital with a dessert auction, along with with a serving contest for fans that raised $1,000 for the hospital. Audience members were encouraged to try to serve a volleyball and hit one of three pizza boxes to send the money to the foundation.
“This was a good distraction,” said Soldotna head coach Sheila Kupferschmid. “It’s all for a great cause and this was very much a success. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to have these ladies here … it’s good to show some support.”
As for the match, the Stars were able to take command and early and withstand some mistakes in a sloppy third set to secure the win. Schmidt headlined the senior night celebration with 12 kills and four blocks, and said the emotions of the night did not stop SoHi from executing.
“We were super pumped,” Schmidt said. “There were a lot of emotions tonight, but we were able to come together and play hard.”
Junior hitters Bailey Leach and Ituau Tuisaula overpowered Kenai’s front line for much of the match, as Leach knocked down nine kills and Tuisaula notched eight kills and five aces, and Leach said the experience and friendship of the team has helped the Stars overcome a sluggish middle stretch of the season that saw the team lose twice to Northern Lights Conference opponent Wasilla in three days.
“We have a lot of chemistry around us and the seniors on the team have been playing together since seventh grade,” Leach said.
SoHi junior Holleigh Jaime also added 12 digs for the Stars.
Schmidt’s dominant play at the net and Tuisaula’s strong service game helped the Stars to a 13-4 lead in the first set, helping them to overcome five missed set points in a row at the end that helped Kenai claw back some of the deficit. Schmidt finally got the win for Soldotna with a powerful kill down the middle.
Leach helped SoHi to a 9-1 run early in set two with a tough service game combined with the stuff block tandem of Schmidt and senior Carsen Brown to put SoHi ahead 12-4. Brown finished with 25 assists.
However, Kenai rallied back with 10 unanswered points to take a 14-12 lead thanks to sophomore Lexi Reis’ string of service points. Reis finished the night with three kills and three aces.
“Our passing helped us in the third set,” said Kenai head coach Tracie Beck. “When we pass, everything else falls into place.”
SoHi scored four straight points to take the lead back, and while Kenai cut the lead to 21-19 late in the going, the Stars secured the 2-0 match lead with four straight points.
Kupferschmid said she put in some younger players in the third set, which allowed Kenai to take advantage. The Kards put up a stout stuff block with Reis and sophomore Abby Avery that resulted in a 14-7 lead. SoHi got some late help from Schmidt, with a few kills, but the Kardinals held on to win the set and force a fourth game.
Kenai took an early lead in game four at 4-2, but the Stars quickly took control with a 9-0 run, followed by another run of 7-1 that firmly put them into the lead at 18-8.
The Kards called timeout at 21-11 SoHi leading, but couldn’t string together enough of a run to force another set.
Kenai was led by sophomore Bethany Morris, who had six kills, while sophomore Kaylee Lauritsen provided eight assists. Sophomore hitter Abby Every notched three kills and freshman libero Jenna Streiff recorded 10 digs and two aces.