The Soldotna Stars were eliminated from the Class 4A state volleyball tournament Friday afternoon with a 3-1 loss to conference rival Colony at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The Knights finished the Stars off with three straight set wins with scores of 23-25, 25-22, 25-13 and 25-21.
The loss left SoHi with a 1-2 showing at the big show and in a tie for fifth place among eight teams for a second consecutive year, something head coach Sheila Kupferschmid said the team could take solace in.
“We’re the smallest school here,” she said. “(Friday) was a sweet win over West Valley.”
SoHi junior outside hitter Ituau Tuisaula led the attack with nine kills, along with seven digs and three aces. Senior Brittani Blossom also had nine points scored with seven kills, senior Kalyn McGillivray and junior Bailey Leach finished with eight points each, senior Carsen Brown provided 28 assists, junior libero Holleigh Jaime had 12 digs and junior Kylie Ness recorded seven digs.
Kupferschmid said the experienced senior class — consisting of Kodi and Kalyn McGillivray, Carsen Brown, Aliann Schmidt, Brittani Blossom and Paulyne Catacutan — showed her a lot this year and had the ability to compete with the state’s top teams having qualified to the big tourney in three out of the last four years.
“They really came together and they put their heart into it,” Kupferschmid said. “I’ve seen it all, and we’re always privileged and blessed to play here. I told them, coming from a region as tough as ours, you always should count your blessings.”
Kupferschmid also shouldered the blame for the third set loss that put SoHi down 2-1 in the match, saying that a strategic error on her part made for a lopsided final score.
Kupferschmid said her changes involves switching up Schmidt and Leach in the middle hitter position after seeing the swap work against the Knights at last weekend’s Northern Lights Conference tournament.
However, Kupferschmid said Friday’s trick backfired.
“It got them out of rhythm and it took them out of it,” she said. “I take responsibility for that.”
The two NLC opponents held mostly even through the first half of the opening set, but SoHi began to pull away with a string of ferocious hits from Tuisaula. SoHi took a 20-18 lead before the two rivals traded points all the way to the end with SoHi winning on a blast from Tuisuaula to take a 1-0 match advantage.
The outside hitting of SoHi prevailed in several key situations in the second set, helping the Stars eke out a slim 18-17 edge, but Colony rebounded to score five of the next six points to take a 22-19 lead, a run capped by a stinging kill by outside hitter Hallee Yundt. It was enough for Colony to hold on and tie the match at one game apiece.
Colony middle hitter Cianna Jorgenson came on strong in the opening minutes of the third set, as Kupferschmid began swapping her two middles. Jorgenson poured in a bevy of kill points to help the Knights to a 13-4 lead, which then grew to 20-7 thanks to several kills from 6-foot-2 middle Jada Schultz.
Schmidt helped gain some of the deficit back, but it proved to be too much for the Stars in a lopsided loss.
SoHi bounced back to take a 13-10 lead in the final set, but Colony reeled off nine straight points on a few tough service points from libero Madison Wakaliuk, giving the Knights a 19-13 edge. Another run of four straight points put Colony ahead 23-17, and with just two points needed to win the match, it was all she wrote.