SoHi, Kenai gear up for zany NLC volleyball tourney

If recent performance is any indication of future results, a zany Northern Lights Conference tournament could be on tap with three state berths up for grabs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Wasilla High School.

Wasilla comes in at 9-1 in the conference, but the Warriors lost to No. 3 seed Palmer in the final week of the regular season and also were taken to five games before defeating No. 4 Colony.

Soldotna nabbed the No. 2 seed with a 6-4 record, but ended the conference slate with three straight losses — to Wasilla, Palmer and Kenai.

As for No. 5 seed Kenai, which finished at 4-6, the Kardinals were on a three-game conference winning streak before being swept by No. 6 Kodiak (1-9 in conference) on Saturday.

“I don’t think you look at the win-loss records,” Kenai coach Tracie Beck said. “I think it’s a whole new season.

“Whoever shows up and plays to win and whoever puts their game together is going to go to state.”

By earning the No. 2 seed, Soldotna gets a first-round bye and plays the winner of Palmer and Kodiak at 8 p.m. today. The winner of that match goes to state.

SoHi earned its first state berth last year since 2012.

“It’s nice to get a bye, but I don’t know how much of an influence it will be,” Soldotna coach Sheila Kupferschmid said. “It’s just going to be a tough tournament.”

The Stars finished their regular season with a nonconference victory over Nikiski on Saturday. Kupferschmid said the victory was key after the conference losing streak.

“What’s costing us is that we’re inconsistent,” the coach said. “We’re inconsistent back on the service line and that’s just because of youth.”

As good as the Stars were in gaining the No. 2 seed, just four players — seniors Taylor Earll and Drewe Zeek and juniors Shaylynn Zener and Cally Christianson — got major playing time in the conference tournament last season.

Earll and Christianson hadn’t been regulars during the 2015 regular season, but stepped in late in the year due to injury.

Kupferschmid will count on Earll, Zener and senior Abi Tuttle for the ball control crucial to getting the offense humming.

“The toughest part of the game is serve-receive,” Kupferschmid said. “It can break down on anyone.”

When the Stars do control the ball, setter Christianson has young and formidable weapons to feed. In addition to Zeek, junior Ella Stenga, sophomores Kodi McGillivray and Aliann Schmidt, and freshman Ituau Tuisaula can all roll up the kills.

“If we have key kids step up and have a match, we’re as strong as anyone in the region,” Kupferschmid said.

The Kardinals open tournament play with a 1 p.m. match against Colony, which defeated Kenai twice. A loss would put the Kards in the losers bracket, while a win would match them with Wasilla with a state berth on the line.

The Kardinals have seven seniors on the roster, and Beck has been coaching the group since they were in seventh grade. Kenai is seeking its first state berth since 2005.

The squad was on a late-season tear before getting swept by the Bears, who are the defending tournament champions.

“I think they’re ready,” Beck said of her team. “There was a lesson learned in that.

“They can’t take anything for granted. Nobody in the conference is going to give them anything. They’re gonna have to earn it.”

The bigger concern coming out of the Kodiak match is junior Sam Kompkoff, who rolled an ankle. Kompkoff provides a key block against the Knights and Beck said Kompkoff was able to work a little in practice this week.

Beck said the key against Colony is the key against any team this time of year.

“We feel like we’ve never put a great game together against them because we’ve never controlled the ball well,” Beck said.

When the Kards do control the ball, senior setter Bethany Coghill can feed dangerous senior Abby Beck.

Seniors Emily Koziczkowski, Cierra King and Caleigh Jensen also have been tough hitters lately, which makes Beck especially lethal.

The job of ball control falls to senior Patricia Catacutan, sophomore Paulyne Catacutan and Beck.

“You have to be able to take care of business controlling the ball,” coach Beck said. “It doesn’t matter how big your front line is if you can’t get the ball to target.”

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